Microsoft is contributing equipment and Azure cloud services to Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University to use in its Living Edge Laboratory for edge computing research. This only makes sense, since Redmond's future now lies with the cloud and most edge computing deployments will likely depend on a public cloud counterpart.
"We welcome Microsoft as a new member of the Open Edge Computing Initiative and we very much look forward to exploring Microsoft technologies in our Living Edge Laboratory," Rolf Schuster, director of the Open Edge Computing Initiative, which oversees the lab, said in a statement. "This is a great opportunity to drive attractive new business opportunities around edge computing for both the telecom as well as the cloud industry."
These days the edge, where compute is physically located on the internet's periphery to reduce latency for end users, is the new frontier of internet technology. It's a crucial component of the Internet of Things (IoT), which already accounts for somewhere around seven billion connected devices, a number that's expected to nearly double in the next five years. More often than not, IoT devices require some additional compute resource located nearby.
The Living Edge Laboratory was started last year as a real-world testing ground for bringing new uses and technologies to the edge. Currently, the project has three test-beds in the Pittsburg area, covering the Carnegie Mellon campus, the nearby Walnut Street shopping district, and a city park that's not far from the university. The project is also supported by Deutsche Telekom, Crown Castle (the Houston-based REIT that's operates more than 40,000 cell towers and 60,000 miles of fiber), Intel, and others.
The research project promises to be a win-win for both deep-pocketed benefactors such as Microsoft, who can use the laboratory both for developing and testing applications to bring to market, and for less well-heeled participants developing products with no immediate go-to-market plans.
An example of the latter would be the National Science Foundation-sponsored project to develop wearable cognitive assistance applications, intended to be an "angel on your shoulder," in which a guide at a central location can observe a user performing a difficult or dangerous task and offer advice. Also on the drawing board is a real-time mobility tool for the visually impaired that will transmit images from a wearable device to a nearby edge data center for real-time processing to warn the user of obstacles and the like.
"It's easy to talk about edge computing, but it's hard to get crucial hands-on experience," Mahadev Satyanarayanan, the Carnegie Mellon computer science professor who runs the lab, said in a statement. "That's why a number of major telecommunications and tech companies have joined our Open Edge Computing Initiative and helped us establish the lab. We validate ideas and provide unbiased, critical thinking about what works and what doesn't."
Microsoft is donating an Azure Data Box Edge, an appliance for physically moving large amounts of data to Azure, and in a partnership with Intel, Azure Stack, an appliance-like solution for deploying Azure on premises, not in a Microsoft data center.
Redmond has also included Azure credits, which will give researchers using the lab access to cloud services including AI, IoT, storage, and more.
"By moving AI models and compute closer to the source, we can surface real-time insights in scenarios where milliseconds make a critical difference, and in remote areas where 'real-time' has not been possible," Tad Brockway, GM of Azure Storage and Azure Stack, said in a statement.
The project fits well with Carnegie Mellon's position as a cutting edge technology institution. This year the school became the first to offer an undergraduate degree in AI and recently founded the independent Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute near its Pittsburgh campus.