In one of the most ambitious efforts yet at building data infrastructure for edge computing, startup Vapor IO will team with Crown Castle to deploy a distributed network of small data centers at the base of telecom towers. The network, known as Project Volutus, offers fully-managed micro data centers at the base of cell towers.
Project Volutus builds upon the Vapor Edge for Telecom platform to deploy edge capacity for wireless network operators and real estate investment trusts (REIT) specializing in the telecom tower business. Crown Castle, the nation’s largest provider of shared wireless infrastructure, has made a minority investment in Vapor IO to accelerate the project’s development and deployment.
Vapor IO is focused on solving edge computing, which moves content closer to users, improving the experience for streaming video and gaming. It’s a hot trend for 2017, as the emergence of the Internet of Things and AI reinforce the need for data centers in new places.
With Project Volutus, Vapor IO says it has brought together the right ingredients for a new edge, joining its in-house hardware and software with a huge real estate portfolio and technology partners including Intel and Open 19.
“Project Volutus is the most cost-effective way to deliver cloud applications,” said Cole Crawford, CEO and founder of Vapor IO. “By locating Vapor IO’s technology at tower locations and connecting to dense metro fiber, we will provide the fastest, most economical way for cloud providers, telecom carriers and web-scale companies to deliver next generation edge services in every major US city.”
The project is named for a new type of cloud recognized in the latest Cloud Atlas. Project Volutus will operate as a colocation business, leasing space in its micro data centers, and kick off with deployments in two cities this summer. Multi-city rollouts are targeted to begin late this year.
Goldman Vet Don Duet Joins Vapor IO
Vapor IO also announced that industry veteran Don Duet will join the company as President and Chief Operating Officer. Duet arrives from Goldman Sachs, where he led the investment bank’s Global Technology Division, including its data centers.
“Project Volutus will extend the cloud by placing thousands of micro data centers at the edge of the wireless network,” said Duet. “By combining Vapor IO’s hardware and software with its partners’ nationwide networks of cell towers and metro fiber, Project Volutus will create massive innovation in the cloud ecosystem.”
Project Volutus marks the continuing refinement of Vapor IO’s software suite to provide “lights out” management of data and facilities, along with tight integration with cloud platforms. Vapor’s software moves content across a distributed network to improve latency, shifting assets closer to the user when needed. It aims to eliminate the need for on-site staff and expensive backup equipment like generators or centralized UPS systems.
Vapor IO has also designed an unusual round IT enclosure called the Vapor Chamber, which supports six racks positioned in a ring. Cool air enters from the exterior, and waste heat is contained in a central vertical column, allowing airflow to be managed with minimal use of fans. The enclosure features an on-board battery, modular rectifiers, and fire suppression. It doesn’t require a raised floor environment or room-level coolimg, but can live outdoors and operate in extended heat and humidity ranges.
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Crawford says the combination of Vapor Edge software and the Vapor Chamber can slash the cost of data center construction, improving the economics of deploying capacity in remote locations.
Enter the Tower REITs
Vapor IO has a powerful partner in Crown Castle, a real estate investment trust (REIT) specializing in telecom towers and fiber infrastructure.
“Edge computing will be a key enabler of the applications everyone is talking about, including autonomous driving, IoT, augmented and virtual reality, and 5G,” said Phil Kelley, senior vice president of corporate development and strategy for Crown Castle. “We believe our unique asset mix of approximately 40,000 tower locations and large metro fiber footprint is ideally positioned for a successful Volutus deployment.”
Crown Castle isn’t the only tower REIT positioning itself to capitalized on IoT infrastructure. Landmark Infrastructure Partners is partnering with IoT sensor specialist Penteon Corporation to deploy a low-power LoRaWAN network to offer device connectivity at more than 3,000 sites, including telecom towers and billboards.
Data Center as a Platform
Project Volutus is described as a “data center as a platform” that offers remote operations, intelligent cross-connects to wireless networks, and direct fiber routes to regional data centers and peering interconnects.
With Project Volutus, operators can automate their infrastructure and make real time workload decisions based on actual tower conditions, including latency and radio frequency congestion. This creates the potential for “autonomous applications” that can move around the network, shifting to an optimal infrastructure as dictated by strategy or conditions.
Vapor IO has lined up a group of technology partners to support the Project Volutus rollout. These include:
- Intel: Mobile carriers wanting to incorporate virtual Radio Access Networks as part of Project Volutus deployments can use Intel’s FlexRAN and Multi-access Edge Compute (MEC) software libraries, which provide an agile virtualized radio access network (vRAN) reference design.
- Flex will provide manufacturing and deployment of Vapor Chambers.
- Packet: The bare metal cloud provider is working with Project Volutus to bring last mile edge computing to wireless networks.
- Open19: The open source Open19 project makes standardized solutions available to smaller data centers. With Open19, field technicians can snap together data centers using interchangeable parts.
“By leveraging the Open19 platform, small micro data centers can deploy the mega data center technology,” said Yuval Bachar, founder of the Open19 Foundation. “Volutus field technicians can snap together data centers using interchangeable parts, making it possible for them to build and operate thousands of edge data centers at the base of cell towers with the same kinds of efficiencies that we see in mega data centers today.”
Crawford is the former Executive Director of the Open Compute Project, which used open source hardware designs to create a new generation of servers and storage for hyperscale data centers. Crawford says Vapor involved a similar process of rethinking conventional wisdom.
Having designed a new layer of infrastructure for the edge, Crawford now gets to build it. It’s a big task. But he says the addition of Duet, investment from Crown Castle and technology partnerships add up to a powerful validation of the Vapor IO vision.
“Zettabytes of machine to machine communication and new application types will require a shift in how the industry thinks about data centricity and the delivery of edge services,” said Crawford. “I think we’re doing nothing less than re-architecting the way the Internet’s going to work.”