Edge computing specialist Vapor IO has added a new lead investor in a Series C round of financing, which the company says will fuel the deployment of its Kinetic Edge Platform as a national network for edge colocation.
The funding is led by private equity firm Berkshire Partners, with current investor Crown Castle also participating. Vapor IO did not reveal the size of the funding, but said the investment would allow it to rapidly expand its footprint of edge data centers.
“This will help establish Vapor IO’s leadership in the market,” said Cole Crawford, founder and CEO of Vapor IO. “As the concept of edge computing has gone from niche technology to mainstream trend, we have methodically laid the foundation for infrastructure-side edge computing. Vapor IO is building the largest footprint of interconnected edge data centers and we are rolling out at an accelerated pace.”
Since its launch on 2016, Vapor IO has been developing a model for a distributed network of edge colocation sites, housed in micro modular data centers that can be deployed at the base of telecom towers or other key points on the network. The Kinetic Edge is Vapor IO’s network design, which uses both wired and wireless connections to create a low-latency network of colocation sites.
Vapor IO has launched its first two sites in the Chicago market, with a third under construction and two more to follow. The five-site rollout will serve as the prototype for an ambitious plan for hundreds and even thousands of distributed, unmanned data centers connected to the wireless network – including new equipment to support the high-speed 5G standard – and the cloud.
With the new funding, Vapor plans to have 13 sites underway by the end of 2018, nearly 50 by the end of 2019 and over 100 by the end of 2020, Crawford said. Specific cities and more detailed rollout plans will be announced later this year.
“We’ve led the discussion around defining the art of the possible at the edge,” said Crawford. “We feel we have built out all the right mousetraps for the autonomous edge. This is no longer an evangelized science project. This is an at-scale institution. Now we have to show the value proposition.”
Berkshire Brings Data Center Experience
Berkshire Partners has experience in the data center sector from its ownership of colocation and interconnection specialist Telx, which it acquired (along with Abry Partners) in 2011. The companies sold Telx to Digital Realty for nearly $2 billion in 2015. Berkshire has also been an investor in Crown Castle, metro fiber specialist Lightower, and many other telecom industry firms.
“Vapor IO is a leader in edge computing,” said Beth Hoffman, a managing director at Berkshire Partners. “With premier technology, increasing mobile edge demand and a large market opportunity, Vapor IO is poised for impressive growth. We look forward to partnering with the company’s exceptional management team to deliver scalable mobile edge infrastructure and to having the opportunity to work alongside Crown Castle again.”
Vapor IO has laid out a vision for a sophisticated platform, using cloud concepts to meld software and hardware. It also has partnerships that offer the ability to scale quickly if needed. That includes Crown Castle, which is the nation’s largest provider of wireless telecom towers, with more than 40,000 wireless sites.
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“The exponential growth in mobile data and the development of new applications that require high speed data networks with low latency make this an exciting time to be in the shared communications infrastructure business,” said Phil Kelley, senior vice president of Corporate Development and Strategy for Crown Castle. “When you combine our distributed real estate and high capacity fiber connectivity with Vapor IO’s capabilities, Crown Castle is uniquely positioned to enable edge computing.”
Many Players, Opportunities at the Edge
Vapor IO is just one of a group of startups targeting the market for edge computing, which moves content closer to users, improving the experience for streaming video and gaming. It’s a hot trend, 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 EdgeMicro, DartPoints, DataBank and Switch.
The Vapor IO edge collaboration with Crown Castle, previously known as Project Volutus, has been acquired by Vapor IPO and will now be offered commercially under the Vapor IO Kinetic Edge brand. It will continue to leverage Crown Castle’s assets, including its tower real estate and metro fiber, but now Vapor IO will offer own the data center modules and offer colocation services.
Crawford describes the offering as “software-driven colocation, complete with situational awareness and telemetry.”
“With this funding, we’re now in a position to spend our own money and deploy our own capacity,” said Crawford. “We will now lease space at the bottom of relevant and opportunistic real estate. This is now us deploying capital against our IP and assets.”
The real estate will primarily be at the base of towers, but could also include rooftops and other urban infrastructure. Crawford says VaporIO will work closely with Crown Castle, but could pursue assets from other owners as well. The focus will be locations that help bridge the gap between wireless and wireline infrastructure, according to Crawford, who sees “unstoppable demand for data and devices.”
Vapor IO’s modular data center packs 150kW of compute into an enclosure, mounting its round Vapor Chamber rack enclosure on a motorized turntable. Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge uses software and high-speed connectivity to bring multiple micro data center facilities into a single virtual facility with multiple availability zones. Modules are meshed together with high-speed fiber across a group of data centers. The design builds upon the “availability zone” approach popularized by Amazon Web Services, creating a cluster of local data centers to easily hand off data and traffic.
The software elements of Vapor’s offering include:
● Interconnection: Edge meet-me rooms and interconnection services provide high-speed access to last-mile networks, regional data centers, metropolitan aggregation points and peering centers, as well as public cloud and private data centers. “We’re just moving the carrier hotels closer to the eyeballs,” said Crawford.
● Software-Defined Networking: Vapor IO customers can use an online portal to configure virtual private networks to create their own edge computing topology, including Kinetic Edge data centers as well as private and colocation facilities. This capability makes it possible to treat all of a customer’s IT equipment in a region as if it were all in the same building.
● Remote Operation and APIs: Vapor IO’s data centers at the Kinetic Edge are designed for remote operation via the web-based Vapor Edge Portal as well as via APIs provided by Vapor IO, including those offered by the Synse open source telemetry system running in each location.
Crawford was enthusiastic about the potential growth of edge computing, and believes the company’s early focus on edge is a differentiator.
“I think we were the first solely edge-focused entity, and in 2018 we are still dedicated totally to the edge,” said Crawford. “Who doesn’t want better, faster, cheaper at the edge, with software magic?”