How IoT & 5G Will Change the Data Center


By: R. Scott Raynovich

If you want a glimpse of the future of networks and data, it's helpful to speak with people building data centers. EdgeConneX is a startup on the vanguard of this trend, building optimized centers at the edge of the network that reveal trends about the changing nature of Internet traffic and how it could affect the future architecture of networks and data centers. 

In just a few years, Herndon, Va.-based EdgeConneX has grown from just a few people to about 150 employees. The company has built 31 edge data centers focused on bringing the data closer to customers. There are several drivers of this trend, including the massive growth of cloud and content delivery, but this trend will be accelerated by emerging technologies such as 5G and Internet of Things (IoT), which will boost the requirements for accessing data closer to the edge of the network. 

"As things move to the cloud, you may be trying to do an update or access Google Drive and Azure, there could be latency so people want more content to stay local," summarizes Phill Lawson-Shanks, the Chief Innovation Officer of EdgeConneX.

The solution produced by EdgeConneX is purpose-built data centers that are strategically located next to the best power supplies and fiber connections to optimize for cloud and content access. EdgeConneX got the idea in the early days of working with cable providers to strategically locate network resources. After building maps of fiber rights of way and head-ends, the company started building data centers to speed up the access of content and reduce the cost of content transport. 

You might think Edgeconnex as Akamai (AKAM) light, as the startup has a model simlar to the large public content delivery network (CDN). However, EdgConneX has occupied its own niche by building more compact data centers closer to the customer. Akamai is now a partner with the company, hosting some of its nodes in EdgeConneX data centers. EdgeConneX is not short on friends -- it has also raised more than $120 million in financing from a variety of private equity firms and partners, including Comcast Ventures and Liberty Global, according to several sources. The company, however, does not reveal the exact amount of funding. 

What does this say about the future? Lawson-Shanks believes that trends such as cloud business applications, IoT, and 5G will cause the Internet to become even more distributed, driving the need for thousands of compact and accessible data centers that can reduce transport costs and latency by being closer to the end user. These data centers will be built in a hierarchy, with both smaller versions, which EdgeConnex calls "edge data centers," and larger versions, "regional edge data centers," or REDCs, as EdgeConneX calls them, much like leaf and spine switches are arranged in a larger data center to aggregate up from smaller collection points. The diagram below, provided by EdgeConneX, is helpful in understanding how these trends unfold. 

Edge Conne X Dc B

The reason the content and network companies are so interested in this is that the strategic location of these data centers can drastically speed up content delivery as well as lower transport costs by as much as 50 percent, helping to solve the Netflix (NFLX) problem of having Internet backbones clogged up with video content. 

"If you're pulling down media content to a device, the request is going deep into the core of the infrastructure, destroying the backbone," says Lawson-Shanks. "We're working with service providers to disaggregate the content so that VOLTE (voice over LTE) will be serviced by core and media content can be serviced closer to the customer."

This phenomenon is likely to repeat itself across markets, as you think of the expansion of connections, devices, and data generated by IoT devices and networking nodes. There is also the need to expand mobile edge data centers, to accommodate the massive growth in data that will be spurred as higher bandwidth mobile connections, including 5G, proliferate. 

"A lot of IoT traffic will be local," says Lawson-Shanks. "It’s going to stay in the factory or the home. But as it starts to grow, there is going to be so much more traffic going to various clouds. A lot of the search companies and hyperscalers are interested in analytics and understanding what these traffic patterns look for."

In the end, that's all good for EdgeConneX. The never-ending growth of data means more demand for edge-based data centers.