Vapor IO, the Austin-based data center technology startup whose sole preoccupation lately has been with edge computing infrastructure, announced a new architecture for deploying and managing distributed computing power throughout cities.
Infrastructure for next-generation applications like self-driving cars and virtual and augmented reality -- and even for current applications like streaming video and cloud services -- is getting increasingly distributed. Shrinking the physical distance between end nodes like connected cars or smartphones and the computing infrastructure that supports those devices or delivers content to them shrinks network latency and dramatically improves performance. This race for better performance is the driver behind the rise of edge computing, or, in other words, extending the edge of a company’s network closer to its end users.
There’s no shortage of vendors offering data center solutions for edge computing. Established giants like Schneider Electric and Vertiv (formerly Emerson Network Power) have micro-data center offerings of various shapes and sizes, while a couple of colocation providers (DataBank and EdgeMicro) have emerged to offer space in data center enclosures next to cell towers. Among all the players in the space, Vapor has the more detailed, full solution-oriented vision for infrastructure that enables these distributed computing networks.
The vision encompasses more than racks and enclosures, cell-tower real estate, or connectivity services (although it includes all those things as well). Vapor has developed a software stack for managing a group of edge computing locations as a single, logical data center, including features like automated site-to-site failover and workload balancing, in other words things multi-zone or multi-region users of cloud services like AWS or Azure have come to expect.
“You can’t build an intelligent edge by being a hammer-swinging box builder,” Cole Crawford, Vapor’s founder and CEO, said in an interview with Data Center Knowledge, stopping short of naming the companies he was referring to. “We’re an IP company and a software company; we don’t bend sheet metal.”
Vapor calls its new architecture Vapor Kinetic Edge. The idea is to combine multiple interconnected edge computing locations spread around a city or a region into a single virtual data center using centralized management and orchestration software. It extends the edge of the network while making it highly resilient, but it does it without redundant power and cooling infrastructure at each site. There can be redundant fiber paths between the sites, as well as redundant utility feeds, but the resiliency comes primarily from the ability of each location to take over for another one if something goes wrong.
The Bent Sheet Metal
While Vapor doesn’t “bend sheet metal,” you can’t build a data center without bending some. To that end, the company has also designed a new data center module for deploying edge computing, produced by its manufacturing partner Flex. The Vapor Edge Module is somewhat similar to data center solutions based on the standard shipping container form factor, but there’s a lot about it that’s different.
It’s designed to provide multi-tenant colocation services at the edge using the Vapor Chamber, one of the startup’s first products, which is a cylindrical pod that provides six high-density IT racks – 150kW of IT power capacity total. Each rack can be subdivided into four sections, each with its own lockable door. Inside the module, the chamber sits on a motorized rotating platform. When a technician enters the module’s front section (which effectively acts as a man trap), they face a perforated wall with an opening just wide enough to access one of the racks. The chamber rotates to expose the section this particular technician is allowed to access, based on the authentication data they presented when entering.
Because different cooling approaches work best in different geographic regions, the module supports what the company calls a “blindmate” cooling plant, meaning it can accommodate a variety of cooling technologies, including chilled water, direct expansion, or adiabatic cooling.
Chicago First “Kinetic Edge City”
While Vapor will sell the Kinetic Edge solution if there’s a company that wants to buy it, Crawford expects most customers to use the technology as a colocation service. Earlier this year the startup partnered with the US cell tower giant Crown Castle to launch an edge data center colocation business under the codename Project Volutus.
The first “Kinetic Edge city” is Chicago, he said. One Vapor Chamber has already been deployed in Chicago, and a second one is in the process. Crawford expects the company to announce more locations in 2018.
The primary users of Vapor’s “edge cloud” would be companies that operate autonomous vehicles (including cars, trucks, and drones), telecommunications companies, cloud service providers (especially those offering bare-metal compute in the cloud), content delivery networks, life sciences companies (who increasingly have the need to send entire DNA sequences around), traditional enterprises, and the usual-suspect internet giants, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.