Telecom operators are in a good position to be part of the IoT value chain by utilizing their existing network assets. But one must go through a long checklist though to grab this opportunity. Utilizing micro-datacenters for current and new services is one of the checkboxes.
Operators’ great asset for the future
Mobile and fixed networks are by nature distributed with small and large sites where various equipment is placed to provide connectivity across cities, suburban and rural areas. Normally we find large sites where a lot people live and where many enterprises operate. The more the remote site—the smaller from a capacity and physical perspective.
Operators have acquired these sites and built central offices for their network gear during several decades. This means that they are in many cases not as modern from a physical viewpoint as the large and centralized datacenters that have been popping up like mushrooms the last couple of years around the world. Equipment placed in central offices must therefore be able to sustain demanding requirements such as temperature ranges, humidity, altitude, and noise levels.
It is obviously costly for network operators to run and maintain all these sites to provide mobile broadband and communication services. However, the more things that are connected—cars, trucks, and industrial machines—the more valuable the sites may prove to be. Why is that? A short distance to the datacenter where the actual service is executed is often a necessity since many IoT services have very strict requirements on latency.
Another important requirement is local breakout capabilities, which can save bandwidth in the network and ensure that the services can be provided even if the connection to the central networks breaks. There are also regulatory aspects to consider. Is this good news for operators? Yes. There is a golden opportunity to leverage the telco network infrastructures, which are already deployed in a distributed manner, to take part in the IoT value chain as well as in enterprise on-premises solutions. But that requires, among many other things, that there is appropriate equipment that can do the job cost efficiently in an operator environment. Micro-datacenters could be a way forward.
The micro-datacenter and what it should be capable of
So what is a micro-datacenter? Or even a pico-datacenter? There are many names for basically the same concept and there is no clear definition in the industry. What most people would agree to though, is that it has to do with small physical size installations and a low number of compute resources. The equipment must be capable of operating in demanding physical environments as explained above and provide very limited overhead costs since so many nodes are deployed inside or close to offices, factories, warehouses and other locations where data is generated and consumed.
The best way to address small physical installations is to design integrated systems—integrated as in one system encompassing compute, storage, switching and routing. To keep overhead costs down, remote lifecycle management and maintenance is a key feature for a micro-datacenter. You can’t have people going physically to every single installation to work—the business case would blow up in no time. Another way of minimizing overhead costs is to go for geo-redundancy of equipment instead of being over-ambitious in implementing resilience in hardware and software. This means various sites will work together to make sure the service is always running in case of failure in one specific location.
A key feature for a micro-datacenter to be able to endure varying and tough physical conditions is NEBS (Network Equipment-Building Practice) compliance—a number of design guidelines for building highly robust equipment that can be deployed everywhere. NEBS3 is currently the strictest level.
Most telecom operators already have a distributed infrastructure in place—built up over decades. It is a valuable asset which can be used when they take part in the emerging IoT ecosystem. Utilizing micro-datacenters makes that effort easier.
Want to know more about technology for building micro-datacenters?
Co-author: Magnus Blomqvist.
Magnus Blomqvist has a master of Science in Industrial Engineering and Management. Magnus has a 32 year background at Ericsson where most of the time has been as Head of Product Management within Core Networks. Magnus current position is within Solution Area Cloud and NFVi as Product Manager of Ericsson Blade Server and Ericsson Edge Datacenter System.