Cell tower Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Cell Tower Giant Crown Castle Joins LinkedIn’s Open19

Move highlights tower companies’ interest to play role in edge computing

Crown Castle, the largest wireless tower owner and operator in the US, has joined the Open19 Foundation, which is working to spread the use of a data center hardware standard created at LinkedIn to make hardware installation equally fast and easy both in core data centers and at edge locations.

Open19 defines a set of four standard server chassis form factors, a rack cage those chassis can easily slide into, a power shelf, and a network switch.

The foundation announced Crown’s move in a newsletter this week.

The news highlights wireless communications infrastructure companies’ interest in playing a role in the development of edge computing infrastructure. Wireless tower sites are a natural fit for this infrastructure, sitting at the point where wireless end-device traffic gets passed on to physical networks.

Crown’s customers, the likes of AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, are keen to deploy edge computing infrastructure to address bandwidth demand the explosion of digital content is placing on their wireless networks and to support the future roll-out of the 5G wireless standard, expected to usher in next-generation applications like autonomous vehicles and virtual and augmented reality.

The idea behind edge computing is to process some data generated by end-user devices (smartphones, IoT sensors, self-driving cars, etc.) closer to where the devices are instead of hauling it to a centralized data center, which could be anywhere from a few miles to a few thousand miles away. This both speeds up application performance and reduces the cost of transporting data over long distances.

A wireless tower is a single network hop away from many of those devices, so it’s the closest possible place the data can be processed outside the devices themselves.

Crown Castle has invested in at least one company that’s been developing infrastructure technology for edge computing. The company, Austin-based Vapor IO, is working with the tower operator on a business that will lease colocation space for edge computing at wireless tower sites, Crown’s telco customers being a prime target.

Vapor launched the Open19 Foundation last year together with LinkedIn, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and others.

Standardizing the way hardware is deployed is especially beneficial in computing-at-cell-tower scenarios, where multiple users would want to install IT gear at remote, difficult-to-reach locations.

Open19 is optimized for quick installation of servers and network and power connections. It standardizes hardware form factors and connectors while steering clear of internal components, leaving the door open for companies to design hardware that fits their needs spec-wise.

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