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A Vapor Edge Module at a cell tower (a rendering) Vapor IO
A Vapor Edge Module at a cell tower (a rendering)

Digital Realty and Vapor IO Pave the Roads to the Edge

The core-to-edge system is designed to fast-track deployment of highly distributed, latency sensitive workloads.

A joint network deployment announced today by Digital Realty Trust and Austin-based edge data center provider Vapor IO will enable Digital Realty customers to directly access and communicate with Vapor's Kinetic Edge data centers in Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas.

The linkup, described as “core-to-edge,” would give customers with multiple locations in or near these cities — for instance hospitals and healthcare providers — a way to deploy edge computing infrastructure for critical, time-sensitive workloads closer to their branch offices. It’s an attempt to fast-track deployment of “edge-native” workloads to reduce latency.

The companies indicated that the three edge computing locations were only the first ones to be connected, and that more would be added to the network in the future.

With typical internet routing, data destined for an office in Austin, for example, will very likely be routed through facilities in Dallas first, Vapor IO CEO Cole Crawford explained. And data traveling from Austin or Houston to Los Angeles will probably double back through Dallas first.

“Your routing is sub-optimal.  Your costs are higher than necessary,” he said.

The offering would be beneficial for a company with petabytes of content sitting in a data hall that needs to be served to users in multiple locations. If the company has that data inside a Digital Realty facility, “and needs to get that data economically to an Austin or a Las Vegas or an Akron, Ohio,” Crawford explained, “now. . . you have two shared-infrastructure companies that are multi-tenant and neutral hosts, allowing for meaningful interconnection from the core all the way to the edge.  So, traffic that wants to stay local can stay local.  Traffic that wants to be centrally distributed towards those users gets better pricing and a more optimized and more resilient internet.”

Digital and Vapor are aiming to simplify routing a workload to an edge computing facility. It is one of the first manifestations of PlatformDigital, a concept Digital Realty rolled out in late 2019, outlining a vision of a globally interconnected data center platform, with standardized ways to deploy hardware and connectivity to enable common use cases.

“Not only is it ‘paving the roads,’ it’s providing the location where that physical infrastructure could be stood up,” Chris Sharp, Digital Realty’s executive VP for design and service innovation, explained. “So, you can have that multi-tiered application where you can run workloads in the most logical locations.”

He described two broad categories of customers within Digital’s facilities, “one being the hyperscalers, and the other being these multinational enterprises.” As far as the former are concerned, the value of computing infrastructure at the edge has been clear all along. The picture is more fuzzy right now for the latter.

“From a hyperscaler lens, we have always seen their infrastructure evolving, and portions of that infrastructure requiring lower and lower latency, or greater distribution, where they can be closer and closer to where the end consumption happens,” Sharp said.

For enterprises, the value proposition may only start to make sense when they see viable use cases. Sharp argued that there isn’t a class of workload today that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of analytics or AI.

“From the enterprise lens, hitting the ‘easy’ button so they can get the benefit of AI is what this is all about,” he said. “What we’ve brought to market is foundational — it’s a paved road. The enterprises need that type of easy button, because the enterprise is not going to come to us and say, ‘Hey, I need 8 ms for this portion of my workload to do AI, as data is generated.’  But what they will see is Nvidia and Digital and Vapor have come together to provide all this infrastructure, which will then allow these enterprises to innovate rather rapidly, because the building blocks are already established.”

Sharp’s reference to Nvidia deals with a partnership agreement reached in January 2019, certifying certain Digital facilities as being capable of supporting, if not already supporting, Nvidia’s designed-for-AI DGX supercomputer hardware.

He pointed to an evolving concept of the data center, whose footprint follows the distribution pattern of the workloads it hosts, thus making facilities smaller in some instances (such as Vapor’s edge data centers), not larger.

Digital’s infrastructure “empowers empowers some of the largest storage arrays, data lakes, and GPU farms,” Sharp said. “We’ve looked at this partnership [with Vapor] as having a prerequisite to do very similar things in a smaller footprint. It’s not a container in a field; it could be a couple of racks in a basement.

“But it’s also not just about the space and power; it’s about the full telemetry of what’s happening within it. Multi-tenancy allows innovation. That’s the elements we looked for and why we decided to partner with Vapor: the mirroring of these two environments.”

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