A little too late or impeccable timing? You be the judge

Interesting news from Vapor IO today who are pitching the notion of “micro data centers” that will sit at the base of cell towers. Vapor IO, if you haven’t heard of them before, is a company focused on delivering a compact cloud operating system for use in small-scale implementations – in other words, as opposed to OpenStack, the open source cloud operating system which is designed for use in large data centers, Vapor IO is for the little use cases. So whereas many vendors offer a “cloud in a box” solution, Vapor IO, perhaps “cloud in a small box.”

Anyway, nomenclature aside, Vapor IO is banking on the fact that there are real world use cases for distributed cloud – and that not everything in the future will sit in the data centers of Amazon Web Services, Google or Microsoft. Which is kind of funny because at least two of those vendors are thinking similarly – both Microsoft and AWS have offerings for specific compact customers – say in the hold of a freight liner, for example.

So while this edge-computing notion isn’t solely the domain of Vapor IO, at least it is a real thing. Which is why Vapor IO is jumping in via its Project Volutus, an offering that enables cloud providers, wireless carriers, and the web-scale vendors to offer cloud-based edge computing. In this case, the deployment is via micro data centers deployed at the base of cell towers.

Interestingly, and in seeming validation of the propositions, Vapor IO is also announcing that Crown Castle, the US’ largest provider of shared wireless infrastructure has also made an investment in the company. Vapor IO brings the specific hardware and software, while Crown Castle brings the existing nationwide footprint of sites.

Of course, there is something of a back story here. Carriers and vendors who supply the hardware that carriers use are, to put it bluntly, at risk of being pigeon-holed as simply the providers of “dumb pipes.” For a decade or more, these organizations have been trying their hardest to work out ways to do smarter things with the infrastructure they already own – with increasing commoditization in the fixed and wireless telecommunications space, there is a critical need to do something differently. So this investment, and the go to market partnership that will, one assumes, come from it, makes sense.

So with that go to market question answered, the question remains, will customers buy? Is Volutus a valid proposition?


There is no question that moving data closer to the edge makes sense for some use cases – the proximity to the users and the massive latency reductions that come from it are valuable. it’s not for all situations, after all, even with a limited number of data center locations, most SaaS applications don’t have huge latency issues. But for situations where milliseconds count, moving the process as close as possible to the user or the location of data makes sense.

But the question here is whether Volutus will win as it tries to compete with similar offerings from so many different players. There are the edge computing offerings from AWS and Microsoft, and then there are the distributed computing offerings from a host of others – does Vapor IO have some secret sauce that can really move the needle?

If all that Vapor IO was doing was compute, I’d be a little dubious, but they’re offering more than that. Volutus allows carriers to incorporate virtual Radio Access Networks, including those based on Intel Corporation’s FlexRAN reference design, for speed and scale when upgrading their networks. By cross-connecting the radio network directly to edge services and the internet, Project Volutus eliminates multiple network hops and facilitates a new breed of low-latency edge applications.

Combine edge computing, with a footprint of around 40,000 cell towers and an associated metro fiber network and connect it all together and you have an interesting combination. This will be a fascinating partnership to watch.


Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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