Packet has partnered with cell tower giant SBA Communications to deploy an edge data center at an SBA tower site in Foxborough, Massachusetts. That site will include Packet-supplied hardware and software to support cloud native and wireless infrastructure.
Packet’s new CTO Ihab Tarazi said the site will include both hardware and software, including multiple versions of Packet’s servers. The software stack includes the company’s cloud automation platform and APIs.
SBA will provide the other components such as networking to support low-latency interconnection services, cooling for the physical site, and local support. The site will be operational by early next year.
Tarazi explained that the site will basically offer all of the functionality of Packet’s standard data center, including service level agreements (SLAs).
Funding for the deployment is coming from the $25 million Series B round the company closed in September. That round was led by Third Point Ventures; included new investors Battery Ventures, JA Mitsui Leasing, and Samsung NEXT; and existing investors SoftBank Corp. and Dell Technologies Capital. Packet has raised $36.6 million in total funding.
SBA is one of the country’s largest cell tower owners. The company also owns towers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru.
SBA CEO Jeff Stoops recently hinted at the tower company’s work with edge data center deployments.
“It’s still very early in the development of these solutions,” Stoops told investors during the company’s third-quarter conference calls, according to transcripts. “But we believe we have a distinct advantage with the quality locations we are targeting and we are excited about the potential for this additional business line down the road.”
Tarazi explained that while SBA is tied to the initial deployment in Boston, Packet is working with other tower owners on similar projects. Packet has said it plans to install around 50 new sites.
Packet did not announce specific operator partners, but Tarazi said that one of those carriers could be Sprint. Packet was part of an announcement by the carrier about its Curiosity IoT platform at this year’s Mobile World Congress Americas show. Packet is providing the bare metal architecture for that platform.
Packet wants to further integrate Kubernetes into the orchestration layer of its stack. Tarazi explained that this will simplify the management and onboarding of different software or cloud services into the Packet platform.
“We want to take the server costs down to the hundreds of dollars each, and the data center architecture is key,” Tarazi said.
Tarazi joined Packet in July, having previously served as CTO at data center giant Equinix. In between those jobs, Tarazi spent six months as an entrepreneur in residence at Sutter Hill Ventures studying edge computing.
Vapor IO Partnership
The Packet deal with SBA is somewhat similar to one struck last year by Vapor IO and cell tower owner Crown Castle. In that deal, Vapor IO scored an investment and partnership with Crown Castle to deploy edge data centers at Crown Castle sites.
That investment initially spawned the Project Volutus joint venture, though Vapor recently took over Crown Castle’s management and deployment functions.
Packet is also working with Vapor IO. The two firms earlier this year announced 5G-capable infrastructure for edge locations using a pay-as-you-go pricing model. The platform is targeted as a way for service providers to more cost effectively manage edge computing deployments.
Vapor IO is tasked with overseeing the physical facilities, operating the lit fiber networking, and providing real-time infrastructure management. Packet will operate the compute service through an “on-demand” model that can be accessed through its portal, API, or through integration platforms like Terraform and Ansible.
Tarazi noted that model also shows what differentiates the two companies in the market. He explained that Packet is more focused on the cloud, while Vapor is more focused on the “physical layer.”
“So that’s the chamber, all the cooling and power, and also some of the software in terms of how you automate,” Tarazi said of what Vapor IO provides. “I would say that they are building an edge data center while we are building an edge cloud. We are the cloud layer and they are the data center layer.”
He added that the cloud layer includes servers and storage.
“I think this edge model is new and evolving. Different players are solving for different stacks,” Tarazi said of the market.