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Colocation providers told to team up with telcos to meet edge datacentre demand

Colocation providers can ill afford to take an “us and them” view of telcos when it comes to addressing the burgeoning demand for edge computing resources, says Datacloud UK panel

Colocation providers should join forces with the telecommunications industry to position themselves to respond swiftly to the growing user demand for edge computing resources.

That is according to the participants in a panel discussion at the inaugural Datacloud UK event in Mayfair, London on Wednesday 31 January, about how the rise of edge computing could disrupt the colocation market’s future operations.

The notion of edge computing is regularly vaunted as the answer to ensuring information generated by the growing number of internet-connected devices coming to market is processed as close to the source as possible in order to reduce data-processing times.

The panel, comprising representatives from the Open Compute Project (OCP), the colocation provider community and the telco space, broadly agreed that the concept of edge computing is still very much in the hype stage of adoption, but customer interest is on the rise.

Matthew Cantwell, director of portfolio propositions at colocation provider Colt DCS, said demand for his organisation’s core offerings is showing “strong growth” for the foreseeable future, but the requirements of its hyperscale customers are starting to change.

“They build their big, hyperscale compute plants themselves, and these will often be in remote locations, but they may also have smaller hyperscale facilities – that are still very large from a colocation perspective – and then they have edge locations,” he said.

In response to these changing demands, some colocation operators have moved to build out their edge computing capabilities by creating micro-type datacentres, but that option is not possible for everyone.

From a connectivity perspective, the edge concept is difficult to make work without access to huge quantities of dark fibre network connections, said Cantwell.

“I am amazed at the amount of connectivity required,” he said. “It’s not just a couple of 100GB connections, it’s 100s of fibre connections, so you need to have multiple providers with a good stock of fibre infrastructure to make these sites make sense.”

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Responsibility for meeting the demand for edge computing sites in the UK does not necessarily have to fall on the shoulders of the colocation community, said OCP European representative John Laban.

Expanding on this point, Laban pointed to the work AT&T is doing in the US to convert about 4,700 telephone exchanges into OCP-powered datacentres, and other communications providers are also following suit.

“Once these guys get this infrastructure in place, they could become the edge datacentre [providers] – not the colos,” said Laban. “If anyone is out there looking for opportunities, this is a huge opportunity. This is what’s going to happen, because these sites are going to be within 4km of every end-user.”

In response, Pablo Jejcic, head of the cloud and infrastructure centre of excellence at telco giant Vodafone, said the potential exists for colocation and telecommunications providers to work together to meet the demand for edge computing – and many already are.

“We human beings like things black and white and binary thing, but the world is just becoming a big coopetition place,” he said. “You can cooperate with someone who is, at the same time, your competitor and killing your industry but challenging you to think differently about your business.”

Farid Singh, outgoing co-chair of the Edge Computing Working Group, backed this view, saying that setting aside competitive differences for collaboration purposes could have mutually beneficial effects for colocation and telco providers wanting to tap into the edge computing opportunity.

“Telcos are really bad at making good datacentres and really bad at making good experiences, so there is an opportunity to partner,” he said. “I have a saying: it is time for everyone to give up their pie, with the vision that the pie is going to get much bigger and you’re going to get a much bigger piece of it.”

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