Nowadays everyone is abuzz about edge computing. It wasn’t always that way. Just ask the team at DartPoints, which began planning a distributed network of micro data centers in 2012.
“Five years ago, everyone thought we had three eyes,” said Michael Ortiz, Chief Development Officer at DartPoints. “Now we look like pioneers. We started our business at the edge, and now we’re connecting the edge back to the enterprise. We have been refining our capabilities, and our five-plus years honing products and service to support the edge is paying dividends for us.”
DartPoints was edge before the edge was cool. The Dallas-based company is now seeking to make the most of its early mover status, and translate its design experience into new commercial deployments of modular data centers. Ortiz said the company is finding strong opportunities in several edge scenarios.
First, DartPoints is developing edge compute solutions at the cellular level, according to Ortiz.
DartPoints is also working with several large public and private university programs to create an edge solution at their campuses to add capacity, improve latency and security concerns of their networks.
“We are in full throttle-up mode,” said Ortiz. “We’re not in test mode. We’re in production and delivery mode.”
Right-Sizing for the Edge
DartPoints is distinctive because it has targeted the micro data center layer from its inception, seeking to deploy space in digestible chunks. The company launched in 2012 with an ambitious vision to build a national network of micro data centers. After testing its model with a proof-of-concept, DartPoints built several sites in the Dallas market, and last year announced plans to take its micro data centers in five new markets.
DartPoints has envisioned a multi-faceted approach to the market, offering micro edge data centers to expand on-site IT infrastructure for small to medium-sized companies in office complexes, and also target carriers that will need to rapidly expand their wireless infrastructure to support 5G broadband services, which may begin arriving as soon as next year.
The company also sees potential opportunity in greenfield edge compute builds in both Tier I and Tier II markets, saying it has the supply chain in place to build multi-megawatt campuses with the connectivity and reliability of a traditional data center.
The core DartPoints module support varying levels of capacity up to 500kW of IT capacity, is optimized for operating with N+1 redundancy, and can support racks with power densities of 15 to 20kW per rack. The company has worked closely with Schneider Electric, but is also is establishing relationships with other infrastructure vendors as well. “We have a great relationship with Schneider, but realized we had to think about diversification,” said Ortiz.
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Ortiz says some of the most promising geographic areas for edge deployments are urban markets with large concentrations of millennials, who are among the heaviest consumers of mobile video content that is a key driver for edge content. A recent study of online video from content delivery specialist by Limelight Networks found that 18-to-25 year olds watch more than seven hours of online video per week, followed closely by the 26-to-35 year old cohort.
That data suggests edge demand may be strongest in markets like San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C., followed by second-tier cities like Minneapolis and Raleigh, N.C.
The demand for capacity at telecom towers will develop slowly and then gain pace, said Hugh Carspecken, the CEO of DartPoints.
“The ecosystem is still being defined,” Carspecken said on a panel at the IMN Data Center Forum in Chicago. “You’ll see that ecosystem come together in 2019, laying the groundwork for the autonomous cars to come.
“You’re going to see a natural progression working its way out to smaller markets,” he added. “The key here is that you’re starting to see brand new applications and datasets.”
Growing Field of Players at the Edge
Ortiz acknowledges that there are new providers entering into the edge computing sector as the emergence of the Internet of Things, AI and autonomous cars reinforces the need for data centers in new places. Other players in this space include Vapor IO, EdgeMicro, DataBank, Compass Datacenters, Baselayer, and Switch.
“We’re not the only edge player,” said Ortiz. “There’s an emergence of grownups that are well-capitalized. I think there’s space for everyone, and room for everyone to grow, just like the enterprise. We think enterprise and edge markets will co-exist. Compass and Vapor IO have their models, and we have ours.”
He also noted that some edge specialists are likely to work with one another to deploy capacity. Understanding all the opportunities and challenges in this emerging business will be a key to success as IT moves to the edge in a larger way.
“We’ve been diligently preparing for this race, doing a lot of homework, and understanding how these telecom guys think,” Ortiz added.
Ortiz is referring to expectations that telecom providers will have a large appetite for edge data center capacity as they begin to build out new infrastructure to support 5G wireless service, which is expected to bring low-latency connections and enable new services. 5G will require new transmission infrastructure, including thousands of cell towers and tens of thousands of antenna – known as small cells and DAS (distributed antenna systems) – that will be deployed on utility poles and other urban infrastructure. It will also require lots of fiber.
” The evolution of 5G is just now starting off.,” said Ortiz. “All these telecom providers are trying to catch up (with demand) as quickly as possible. It will just take time to physically get the towers up. The big question in the next 24 months will be who’s going to build. I see 2020 being a big year, in which two or three big telecom providers really get going.”
Ortiz says that the growing focus on edge reinforces the company’s original thesis that there will be a significant market for a distributed network of smaller data centers.
“The edge is a convergence point, where data is needed right then and there,” he said. “The centralized model cannot be the only solution.”