Multi-access edge computing (MEC) relies on virtualization but faces certain challenges with it. MEC moves computing closer to the end user by offering the network’s edge as the computing source. A network’s edge can be found at a localized site such as a radio tower, router, small cells, or data center. The edge of a network allows for ultra-low latency and a consistent connection to the end user. AT&T describes the advantage of edge computing best: “It’s like having a wireless supercomputer follow you wherever you go.”
The edge requires lighter virtualization solutions than the virtual machine-based technology we currently have. Currently, the MEC architecture includes a virtualization layer, similar to a network functions virtualization (NFV) architecture, however, MEC is still a completely different animal than NFV. MEC may operate on a standalone architecture or the MEC architecture may converge with the NFV architecture to enhance the computing experience. A benefit to the convergence of NFV and MEC architectures is that “NFV enables the edge devices to provide computing services and operate network functions by creating multiple virtual machines (VMs),” according to Science Direct.
However, two other solutions exist to deliver lightweight virtualization to edge computing for optimal performance. Here’s a brief review of those products and how they assist in lightweight virtualization.
MEC Virtualization Equipment
- Containers: Containers will process application packaging that delivers service and applications to the edge of the network. Some examples of containers helping with MEC virtualization include Docker and Linux containers.
- Unikernels: Unikernals are single-purpose appliances that can’t be modified after deployment. “Unikernels were designed initially with the cloud in mind, but their small footprint and flexibility make them ﬁt also well with the upcoming IoT edge ecosystem,” according to the article “Consolidate IoT Edge Computing with Lightweight Virtualization.” NFV may be embedded into unikernels because they are stateless. A perk of unikernels is increased security, as each kernel has unique vulnerabilities. So while an attack may affect one, it will not spread to the other kernels.
MEC Virtualization Benefits
MEC virtualization offers several benefits, in particular to the Internet of Things (IoT), by maintaining continuous connectivity to high-bandwidth devices. Adding virtualization to MEC, as ETSI points out, also allows the “capability for an application to discover applications and services available on other hosts, and to direct requests and data to one or more hosts.” Virtualization plays a critical role in the speed of data transmittance.
In the scenario of autonomous vehicles, Christian Renaud, IoT Research Director at 451 Research, commented that “the NFV and SDN piece is critical because of the coordination. If you’re shifting compute to be closest to the point of data origination to reduce latency, and that point of data origin is going 150 miles per hour — or 400 miles an hour if it’s an aircraft — that makes it a harder problem to solve for.”