David Rose, vice president of sales and business development at Virtuosys, explained the platform combines Linux-based software and an edge device to create a mesh network. Rose said the new platform builds on lab testing the company has conducted over the past six months.
The software component includes a management gateway for traffic routing. Data traffic that needs cloud-based analytics can be sent in that direction, while data that can be parsed through at the edge location can be handled on site.
Rose noted this allows companies to better serve the low-latency needs of MEC. It can also save on operations costs by lowering the need to use backhaul resources to transport data to the cloud.
That software also relies on containers to support and secure applications. Rose noted that similar to a cloud deployment using virtual machines (VMs) for greater efficiency, the Virtuosys platform uses containers because VMs were “too heavy for what we were doing at the edge.”
Rose said Virtuosys had about 20 applications already developed and running in a containerized environment.
“They are probably not in a fully realized production state, but they provide customers with a starting point in terms of services that they can run,” Rose said.
Rose said the company’s biggest challenge was in getting the appropriate hardware to support its software.
“We really couldn’t find a hardware platform to support our software needs,” Rose said. “Many were just dumb collection devices that sent data back to the cloud regardless of what was needed. And the ones that could parse out the different traffic were just too expensive.”
Rose said the Virtuosys box contains a quad-core ARM CPU, RAM, and memory that makes each box powerful enough to run as a single unit or provide greater power when part of a mesh deployment. Those boxes are priced at around $500 each depending on various deployment models.
The hardware includes support for both wired Ethernet and unlicensed WiFi to handle networking and backhaul. It also combines more specific and lower-powered wireless protocols like Bluetooth and Zigbee, which also allows the servers to run without the need for an Internet connection.
Rose said the edge servers are designed to be interoperable with other devices meeting certain hardware and software requirements. This is likely to be a requirement for systems integrators.
“We have not thoroughly tested this level of interoperability yet, but that is what we are working on doing,” Rose said.
Virtuosys is also looking at less powerful edge servers that could rely on a single more powerful box to handle processing. These could provide for a lower cost point for larger deployments.
MEC platforms move computing power closer to the end user in an attempt to lower latency and improve service performance. Services targeted by MEC providers include IoT, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), connected vehicles, content-delivery networks (CDNs), and 5G.
Iain Gillott, president and founder of research firm iGR, linked MEC with the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) initiative as key pillars for operators to shift their traditional network architecture to one that looks like a data center.
“Simply put, MEC marries a radio with a data center,” Gillott noted in a report. “Today, that radio is LTE, but it could also be WiFi, 5G New Radio, or some combination of them all. The server component is a secure, virtualized platform that network owners can ‘open up’ to third parties, such as content providers and application developers.”
Gillott noted that many of his clients that are involved in densifying mobile operator networks with small cells are looking closely at MEC because they see those two trends coming together. “Re-architecting the network with small cells lends itself to edge computing,” he said.