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4 February 2019

Linux Foundation’s LF Edge looks beyond telcos for a common framework

Conventional standards bodies are often at their weakest when two separate worlds converge. When the mobile network also became an IP and data network, it required a massive adjustment by its core standards body, the 3GPP, and uneasy cooperation with previously alien groups like the IETF (Internet Engineering Taskforce, the main Internet standards body).

Into that breach, proprietary solutions can too easily step, but so can open source initiatives. As these start to have the same influence in telecoms as they have already had in the data center, it is no surprise that the Linux Foundation (LF) is building a power base in some of the new intersections – particularly between the telecoms network and the cloud. In the mobile world, the element of cloud convergence which promises to spawn the most interesting new business models is the edge cloud, and the LF has established its latest umbrella framework in this area, bringing together several projects and 60 founding members into LF Edge.

This is a relatively new approach by the Foundation, which has started, in recent years, to group and coordinate its projects in categories, to avoid duplication of effort, accelerate progress and encourage maximum participation. Other groups include the Cloud-Native Foundation, the LF Networking Fund and the Deep Learning Foundation. Now it has added LF Edge, predicting that about 20bn edge devices will be in use by 2020.

The new structure establishes a common administrative structure to help coordinate and rationalize LF’s various edge projects (though it is always voluntary for any project to join one of these new groupings, or Foundations). LF Edge is described as “an umbrella organization to establish an open, interoperable framework for edge computing independent of hardware, silicon, cloud, or operating system”.

Three existing edge-related projects will move under the auspices of the new framework. These are the AT&T-initiated Akraino Edge Stack, EdgeX Foundry (originated by Dell), and the Open Glossary of Edge Computing. They will be joined by two brand new projects – Home Edge Project and Project EVE.

The broad remit for LF Edge is described as addressing “non-traditional video and connected things that require lower latency, faster processing and mobility”. This will be done via a unified software stack, supporting and drawing on all the involved projects, which does not just cover the telco edge, but also that of the cloud and the private enterprise.

This sees the Foundation taking a broad view on the perennial question ‘where is the edge of the network?’ The traditional telco approach, epitomized in ETSI’s Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) architecture, likes to see the network edge conveniently in terms of existing telecom infrastructure topologies. So the edge is a central office, a cell site, at a stretch it might be a city small cell. If that view prevailed, operators would be in pole position to deploy edge applications and monetize their existing sites, benefiting from the much-vaunted confluence of telco real estate, low latency 5G and distributed cloud resources for storage, analytics and content management.

But in fact, there are many reasons to want to move data processing to the edge, beyond lower latency and more efficient mobile resource usage. Many enterprises are interested in edge compute to keep their data secure or under their control, or to reduce the cost of transporting huge amounts of data to the central cloud, if most of that can be filtered, and stored or discarded, where it is collected.

Most of these enterprise uses will take place indoors, often on industrial premises, but the edge can be taken even further – into the home, to support secure and intelligent local use cases such as interactive VR; into the car or train; even into the end device.

The LF Edge view is that each of these has certain advantages in enabling edge-centric services – telcos are best placed to deliver highly mobile applications, an may argue that their control of 5G will also put them in pole position for many low latency services. However, the best location for a given app may often be within a company data center itself, so it is important that there is a common framework which can span edges that are owned and deployed by a range of organizations, including webscalers, operators and enterprises themselves.

LF Edge aims to tie these edges together to create greater harmonization across industries, and so accelerate deployment of edge devices to reach that projected 20bn figure by the end of next year. With most of those devices being related to IoT applications, there is no chance of reaching such ambitious numbers if the issue of fragmentation is not more effectively addressed. There are hundreds of IoT services which could be enhanced by moving data and analytics closer to the device, and connecting them by high quality mobile links. But if each one has its own software stack and ecosystem, there will be very little scale and little attraction for developers, hardware makers or service providers. In particular, it is urgent to have a common template for identifying and guarding against security and privacy risks in the IoT.

“The market opportunity for LF Edge spans industrial, enterprise and consumer use cases in complex environments that cut across multiple edges and domains,” said Arpit Joshipura, general manager of The Linux Foundation.

On the smart home front, the new Home Edge Project is based on seed code contributed by Samsung Electronics, which clearly has a keen interest in boosting its position in this value chain. It is a major supplier of connected home appliances and media equipment, as well as smartphones, but has been outstepped by Amazon and Apple when it comes to intelligent home applications, especially those controlled by smart speakers. By defining the rules for a new AI-assisted home edge, Samsung may hope to improve its influence – its edge work has been geared to low latency applications like VR gaming, to high security in the smart home, and to responsive AI apps from home robots to intelligent content management.

The other new LF Edge initiative is called Project EVE (Edge Virtualization Engine) and its starting point is code contributed by cloud developer Zededa. The aim is to create an open and unified edge architecture that can support all kinds of hardware, connectivity and software, whether on-premise or in the cloud. This agnostic approach, say EVE members, effectively removes the rigid perimeter and provides a more flexible edge with multiple security layers.

It is important for telcos to let go of their dreams of dominating the edge services market, at least once they move beyond applications in which they have incumbent advantage anyway, such as video caching for smartphones, or highly mobile edge apps. But overall, telcos will only be one group of companies able to monetize the combination of edge compute and connectivity, as LF Edge’s broad focus shows (despite strong involvement of operators like AT&T).

This is also at the heart of the OpenFog specifications, which had their roots in the data center rather than the networking world (they were originally defined by Cisco), and which are now the basis of the IEEE 1914 standards for interoperable edge computing systems. To push that point home, OpenFog recently merged with the Industrial Internet Consortium, to focus on an important driver of edge services, the Industrial IoT, with its requirements to support huge numbers of devices, all generating data that needs to be analyzed; plus to enable low latency and high security.

However, unifying efforts like that merger, and LF Edge, are treading a delicate line between addressing fears of fragmentation, and appearing to behave like a traditional standards body. Linux Foundation insists that projects will keep their independence and that no project has to join its frameworks – each one will decide if and when to take part.

In May 2017, the Foundation reached out to non-open source initiatives, recognizing that both will play a part in telcos’ strategies. It published a white paper outlining how different open source initiatives, and standards bodies, could work together to avoid duplication or fragmentation. It called for telecoms standards bodies to work together with the open initiatives to accelerate progress and avoid damaging splits or fragmentation.

In the past, Joshipura has presented a unified architecture which seeks to align various open source groups with existing standards bodies and pointed out areas where they were overlapping or duplicating effort. He said: “There’s a place for standards and there’s a place for open source, and the two of them can be the best of friends.”

He added: “As a neutral party, we would like to facilitate those conversations, but some of that may take place in the standards groups themselves. The first step is project by project, standard by standard. We will look at introduction goals, what are complementary things. We agree on the end results but the paths are different on how we get there and when the paths are different, it’s important to get terminology aligned and processes aligned and start the dialog for the actual architecture and the integration. Open API does not mean the same thing when I say it as when a vendor says it or when another open source project says it.”


The LF Network Fund:

At the start of 2018, the Linux Foundation announced it would combine six major networking and telecoms projects under a common “horizontal umbrella” called the LF Network Fund (LFN). This has similar objectives to the newer LF Edge and Deep Learning Foundation, and the older Cloud-Native Foundation – to create common frameworks which will encourage interoperability, and therefore confidence to deploy.

That means rationalizing a host of activities in all these key areas of technology, to reduce fragmentation and market confusion. This could also mitigate the risk that operators will lack the confidence, despite the allure of open platforms, to tear themselves away from their familiar vendors, standards bodies and closed platforms. It will also help to reduce the variety of skills and resources telcos will need to support all the projects, and LF will charge a single fee to belong to LFN.

The LFN will bring together six projects at various stages of maturity. They are:

  • ONAP (Open Network Automation Protocol)
  • OPNFV (Open Platform for Network Functions Virtualization)
  • OpenDaylight
  • io (Fast Data.input/output)
  • PNDA (Platform for Network Data Analytics)
  • SNAS (Streaming Network Analytics System)

Individual projects retain their independence but the Foundation provides mechanisms for communication and sharing, and enables “avenues for greater collaboration” between them. In LFN, this is achieved through two bodies, a technical advisory council and marketing advisory council.

Arpit Joshipura, general manager of networking and orchestration for the Linux Foundation, said last year: “Over the last five years, open source has picked up steam significantly and as specific use cases or problems arose, multiple single projects were created, and they have been deployed and have had momentum. Now there is an architectural discussion going on across projects and there is a need for looking at all these components from a solution perspective.”

The first LF Edge projects:

  • EdgeX Foundry – initiated by Dell/EMC, EdgeX Foundry is a platform-agnostic software framework that supports plug-and-play integration of microservices. It is IoT-focused and can run on any industrial edge gateway, providing middleware between sensors and the cloud.
  • Home Edge Project – a new group based on seed code from Samsung, this is also developing an agnostic service layer to support interoperability between IoT devices and the cloud, but focused on consumer applications and particularly the smart home.
  • Akraino Edge Stack – based on AT&T effort, which it open sourced last year, Akraino Edge Stack focused on the cloud end of the stack. It is designed to automate provisioning for edge services, and support flexibility and scalability at the enterprise’s cloud back end.
  • Project EVE – based on code from Zededa, Project EVE supports virtualization of edge hardware to deliver more efficient workload distribution and lower latency.
  • Open Glossary of Edge Computing – a reference guide to all the technical terminology related to edge computing. This is maintained on an ongoing basis by a group whose members include ARM, Ericsson, edge compute provider Packet, microservices CDN Rafay Systems, and neutral host edge provider

Norway initiates 5G edge testbed:

An innovative testbed for edge data center services was set up late last year in Norway. The facility consists of an edge node, a micro grid for power and cooling, and a 5G test network. The aim is to enable companies to explore use cases which combine edge and 5G, particularly low latency activities such as offloading; and services which rely on aggregation of many small data centers. There is a particular focus on utility and city applications.

The testbed has been set up in the university of Luleå in the north of the country. The

department listed all the suppliers involved, except that of the 5G connection. The edge storage/processing module is from Boxmodul, the racks from ENOC, the micro grid controller from ABB, the solar panel from Eitech and the battery storage from Northstar.

In a blog post, the university wrote of the different potential form factors for edge compute – “maybe container size, half a container, one rack or even wall-mounted nodes. This will be spread out in a city and need to be well integrated in, and interact with, the city infrastructure of power distribution and thermal distribution (heat/cold).”