Zededa recently emerged from stealth mode with its sights on the growing nexus between the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing. And it’s planning to use the cloud and an innovative software stack to infiltrate the market.
The company was formed in 2016, and it recently closed on just over $3 million in funding from a diverse set of investors. While it’s still several months away from announcing an actual product, its management team is taking a bold stance on making a name for itself.
Said Ouissal, CEO and founder of Zededa, said the company is basing its operations on a handful of assumptions. These are that computing will be installed nearly everywhere; that real-time is a big part of the IoT and edge; and that Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are heading into the IoT space.
“Our idea is that the edge is the next big wave,” Ouissal said. “Real-time is why we need to support edge and IoT. There is a need for that processing at the edge to handle this in real time.”
To that point, Zededa is building a software platform that can be deployed on virtually any edge device in support of IoT. This involves a lightweight software stack that can adapt to different deployment models.
“We made our software at the edge super simple and embedded virtualization into the process,” Ouissal said. “Basically it builds on how virtualization solves a real problem.”
That software stack operates as an application manager that can support different use cases or platforms depending on the specific need of the IoT edge deployment. It also relies on a Zededa-operated cloud back end to manage how the applications are operating on the edge devices. This allows the platform to be application agnostic and for some of those applications to live at the edge.
“One of the challenges is the diversity of apps on the edge,” Ouissal explained. “Some are still running Windows and now just getting into Linux. And yet others are also jumping into serverless. We have found that customers don’t want us to touch the data, they just want a way to manage the apps.”
Unikernel and Kubernetes
As part of that software development, Ouissal touted the company’s use of a unikernel. This is a simple, modular machine image that can run directly on a hypervisor or hardware without the need for a standard operating system. Unikernels also present a smaller attack surface, which increases security.
Ouissal said a unikernel takes the best of virtual machines (VMs) and containers: the security properties of a VM combined with the light weight and ability to run anywhere from the container ecosystem.
“It really figures out for itself what it needs to run and does not need anything else,” Ouissal said. “This allows for a very lightweight deployment, which we have seen down to as little as 200,000 bytes.”
This lightweight nature reduces power needs and allow for a near instantaneous startup. The applications can also operate autonomously for a period of time should connectivity become an issue.
Some of Zededa’s customers are also working on adding Kubernetes orchestration to the platform. This does require some modifications due to the more exact physical location needs of edge and IoT deployments compared with what Kubernetes typically needs when operating on a server or in a data center.
“Kubernetes is not really ideal for edge and IoT, but there is enough flexibility in it and in our platform that it can be used as part of the system,” Ouissal said.
Zededa is working with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which is home to Kubernetes, on a security platform that uses virtualization to add the needed security support for edge deployments.
Security is a challenge as edge devices are viewed as particularly vulnerable due to their being deployed in public places and typically having small, portable form factors. Zededa tackles that challenge by securely storing sensitive data using encryption in the platform and also implanting a self-check system that allows the network to figure out if the device is acting as intended.
“If we find that a device is acting abnormally or has been tampered with, we can segregate it from the network,” Ouissal said.
Zededa’s efforts are nothing new. A number of companies with deeper pockets and more public experience have been invading the IoT and edge computing space looking to get a piece of what’s expected to be a multibillion-dollar pie.
Companies like Resin.io, IoTium, and SWIM are some of the smaller players that have jumped into the space. While larger players like IBM, Cisco, Oracle, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have all pushed out various platforms touching on different aspects of the market.
Ouissal indicated that Zededa has found a unique position within this growing ecosystem. “A lot of these moves like Greengrass from AWS or what Microsoft is doing with Azure IoT would all just run as applications on top of us,” he said.
The company is currently working with edge hardware vendors in the space and is set to begin beta testing its platform by mid-year.