Editor’s note: The teams from RCR Wireless News and Enterprise IoT Insights recently convened a wide range of telecoms and enterprise stakeholders to examine all things mobile edge computing at the Mobile Edge Forum virtual event, available on demand here. This article is taken from a session at the Mobile Edge Forum.
Picking up where we left off in Part 1 of this story—covering how mobile edge computing will be packaged and sold to customers, and a seeming preference for as-a-service offerings—the key question for mobile operators looking to monetize investments into mobile edge computing is what role do they play in the value equation?
Is it serving as an aggregation point that’s also a service-delivery node? To the aggregation point, Equinix Global Head of Edge Infrastructure Services Zachary Smith said, “We have to break out that network. And so there’s a great place for operators to come in and provide a virtualized substrate of connectivity, other services that are core fundamentals, and kind of unify that in multiple markets. I think it’s going to mean that operators have to get comfortable with working on a global basis. They can’t just be in one market. It’s going to be very, very hard to offer the kind of breadth that we see customers looking for at an enterprise basis.”
What’s the operator view on that? International Networks Transformation Director for Orange Idir Fodil sees the opportunity at two levels. Using distributed telco cloud infrastructure to aggregate customer connections and services is a “great opportunity,” he said. Realizing the opportunity means operators “need to tackle the last mile…not the last mile in terms of telecommunication, but the last mile in terms of services.”
The second opportunity, he said, is providing enterprises with service level agreements against services. “The main important point at this telco cloud is that it allows aggregating the customers and also aggregating services or [a] portfolio of services to our customers.”
The layer cake and the land grab
Back to the evolving mobile edge computing business model, Smith said the work Equinix is doing with Orange, deploying a virtualized telco infrastructure PoP, isn’t a quick “turn-it-on” type of project. “There was so much work that we had to add to our platform and…to meet the needs of a high-production network use case that Orange had. And Orange had to invest very heavily in its software stack in order to be able to consume that kind of heterogeneity and infrastructure and still deliver its service in operations.”
In addition to partnerships with operators, he’s also seeing movement around the serverless edge and front-end or low-code multi-tenant edges focused on enabling developers to build edge services. “I think we’re going to see this kind of layer cake and luckily, at least from my perspective over the last one year, it’s gone from being, “Can we think about moving into multiple locations?” to thinking and writing applications in a…kind of deployed everywhere model.
Intel Senior Director of the Smart Edge Product Milan Djukic characterized the MEC business model as still in a “land grab” phase because things are still “in the early innings. But we believe there’s plenty of value to go around. And I think the mobile network operators are certainly going to be in a strong position to capitalize given their private mobility expertise and the innovative use cases that can be unlocked there.”
Given the nature of how the edge is being and built, deployed, operated and consumed by users, Djukic called out that there’s a role for systems integrators, cloud specialists and independent software vendors to play alongside operators. He said he expects there to be “multiple winners out there” and Intel trying to work across that ecosystem with an emphasis on developing use cases vertical by vertical.
Looking ahead, “What we’re probably going to see over the next few years out is then, once we have some pockets of edge computing deployments happening, the next phase will be how do these edges all play very nicely together?”
Attracting app developers to the developer-driven edge
Note the emphasis throughout on edge as a mechanism to deliver services and applications; beyond the telco realm, specific enterprise applications means specialist application developers need to be brought into the fold. This is primary piece of how edge will be put in front of buyers and also why the architecture is necessary in the first place.
As Djukic put it: “Developers are building their applications to run anywhere, and that’s really the jet fuel that’s going to drive this industry. And we’re keenly focused on developers, and we want to make sure that we’re putting the right edge platforms forward, the right hardware platforms forward, to enable those applications to run as efficiently as possible, whether it’s on perm, or on the network edge itself.”
To best attract developers, Fodil said the approach should focus on building APIs that can be quickly consumed by developers, including instantiation, testing and installation. Last word to Orange: “It’s not a matter of infrastructure, it’s a matter of services and applications.”