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15 June 2021

VMware and Vapor IO deliver first fruits of Open Grid Alliance

Two months after the launch of the Open Grid Alliance (OGA), the industry group has set out its first deliverable, the Multi-Cloud Services Grid.

The OGA was formed in April with the ambitious objective of “re-architecting the Internet”, taking the electricity power grid as its inspiration. The aim was to drive a common shared platform for distributed compute, data and analytics at the edge.

The first deliverable to conform to its objectives will support on-demand and real time assembly of the network resources needed for different services and functions, on a dynamic basis.

The project is being led by VMware, which is being spun out of Dell, the main mover behind the OGA’s formation; and Vapor IO, a US start-up that provides an edge platform targeted at telecoms. Other founding members of the Alliance were disaggregated router pioneer DriveNets and two other telco edge specialists, MobiledgeX (an offshoot of Deutsche Telekom) and PacketFabric.

“To unleash truly transformative innovations at the edge, what we need is a fungible edge. One that stitches together the right level of compute resources, in the right place, at the right time, driven by application intent,” Kaniz Mahdi, VMware’s VP of advanced technologies, explained when the OGA was unveiled. Those resources need to move across the whole network stack from hardware to SDN, cloud, automation and applications.

The Multi-Cloud Services Grid will integrate VMware’s Telco Cloud platform, which is enabling several major virtualized network roll-outs, with Vapor IO’s new Kinetic Grid platform. This will allow operators and developers to initialize grid services on-demand, said the partners, and “hypercompose” workloads spanning edge and cloud infrastructure and 5G, on the fly according to real time changes in demand.

Kinetic Grid is a new extension of Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge platform, which enables edge data centers, often within telecoms networks. These can be interconnected using the Kinetic Edge Exchange (KEX) software-defined networking (SDN) fabric to coordinate traffic exchange between the edge sites. Now Kinetic Grid goes a step further and enables applications to work across many distributed sites, riding on a dark fiber network from neutral host Zayo, Vapor IO’s fiber partner.

VMware and Vapor IO said the Multi-Cloud Services Grid will be available first in Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Dallas later this year.

“The Vapor IO and VMware teams will deploy bedrock capabilities that serve the entire community, growing opportunities for providers and consumers across the entire stack,” Vapor IO’s CEO Cole Crawford said in a statement. “We want this to be the catalyst for other organizations to co-create and co-innovate with us, developing the new technologies and go-to-market business models that will enable us to collectively deploy the Open Grid at scale, worldwide.”

At the OGA’s launch, the founders said: “Like the power grid, from which it gathers its metaphorical inspiration, the Open Grid will be a software-defined system that stretches across the globe to support multi-cloud services via fungible resources that are employed, when and where they are needed, on demand, and with guarantees and service-level agreements,” states the group’s launch manifesto. Within that, 5G will have a critical role to play.”

The group wants to define and provide the foundations that will accelerate the progress of making the Internet into a converged, shared platform for highly distributed computing, data and analytics at the edge. The idea is to develop a software-defined network that provides a layer of abstraction, and so supports the dynamic allocation of connectivity and computing across multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, near-premise and on-premise services.

The Alliance plans to draw upon developments and expertise from vendors in every part of the virtualized network stack including hardware, SDN, virtualization and containers, automation and applications. However, it will not write specs or standards, but says it will focus on guidelines and key principles, and development of reference architectures.

The next generation Internet will, the group believes, be built from the edge in, rather than distributing old norms and architecture to the edge as an afterthought. In that architecture, low latency connectivity such as 5G will be a critical enabler, potentially giving its deployers and operators an enhanced role in the cloud and Internet value chain.

“As exciting as emerging edge technologies from hyperscale cloud providers and telecommunications service providers might be, the truth of the matter is that it’s near impossible for one technology provider to deliver this vision,” Mahdi told SDxCentral. “The edge is just too distributed, too dynamic, and too heterogeneous for a singular service provider to tackle it all.”

With virtualization of data centers and networks underway, the group aims to define rules that allow these virtualized systems to supply the appropriate amount of compute resource for each task or application, operating as a “compute grid”. (Those whose memories stretch back to the 1990s may hear strong echoes of a then-hot topic, much discussed by IBM and others, of ‘utility computing’.)

With this grid in place, each application could take the resources it needed – compute, memory, connectivity – on an on-demand basis. This would be enabled and fully automated by a layer of intelligence applied on top of the virtualized, open grid system.

For the grid to function effectively, there will need to be traffic interconnection and hand-off, for wireless and wireline, in huge numbers of locations close to users. Crawford says traffic still travels hundreds of miles, on average, even in countries like the USA with considerable investment in edge cloud infrastructure.

“If we’re ever going to see optimized, low latency network hand-off” for use cases like autonomous robotics, “at some point the physics come into play, and that’s why this is so important…the need for Internet in more places is here and now,” he said.

Vapor IO was an early player driving the future trend for the increasingly distributed and cloud-based 5G RAN to converge with the edge cloud. These might both be deployed by an operator, or via a partnership between a cloud provider, telco and an infrastructure company (Vapor IO’s edge platforms have sometimes been deployed in partnership with towercos in the USA such as Crown Castle).