Moving to a more automated, multi-access, multi-service edge computing model has become a critical requirement for network operations while also driving improved economics. To date, many of the multi-vendor efforts towards this goal have been at the proof-of-concept level. But Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 heralded a fundamental shift in proving the viability and value of an automated edge cloud when Akamai, Wind River, Equinix, Ciena, Affirmed, and Tiled Media (Team AWECAT) demonstrated an automated multi-access, multi-service edge compute solution that improves service provider architecture, operations, and efficiency. You can see a full video summary of the demonstration here.

I asked Marc Fiuczynski, Principal Architect at Akamai Technologies, the world’s largest content delivery network technology provider, to discuss industry progress towards the automated service provider edge.

Rob: Marc, for me the last six months have been astonishing!  The industry response has been outstanding, largely due to the collaborative efforts between Blue Planet, Akamai, and our other AWECAT partners. First, we had continuous executive engagement at the Ciena MWC booth, then many requests to publicly release our video of the demonstration, followed by an IDC report on the demo that endorsed our collaboration, and an invitation for Team AWECAT to keynote at DCD Dallas, a key edge computing conference!

Marc:  Indeed, it’s been an outstanding collaborative effort to pull together this demo. I’ve been involved with SDN and NFV for a number of years. It’s been mostly proof of concept so far. The biggest gap that needed to be closed was orchestration. Teaming with Blue Planet has been fantastic as it incorporates the fabric that weaves together the elements of a cohesive MEC offering.

Rob:  Thanks Marc!  It’s great to hear Akamai and so many service providers tell us how critical automation is to their edge compute deployments.  The network edge, whether on customer prem, at the base of a tower, or in an edge CO, is often constrained by space, power, staff, skill set, compute, network, and storage resources. Traditional methods of operating are just too costly and cumbersome to accommodate myriad new, flexible, dynamic, and low latency services at the edge.

Speaking of which, video distribution is clearly a critical edge compute solution.  IDC’s Multi-Access Edge Cloud Forecast highlighted Video Distribution, Mobile Infrastructure, and Enterprise Managed Services as the big initial services for the Edge.

Marc:  Exactly. Being able to deliver video over both fixed and wireless networks is obviously an exciting space for Akamai, and demand for solutions is growing at a rapid pace. Being able to do so in a cost-effective way by pushing the caches out to the edge for local breakout is an exciting prospect moving forward.

Rob:  Absolutely. For vCDN (Virtual CDN) we’ve received clear validation from the service providers.  As more and more of the service providers’ broadcast video turns to streaming over TV Everywhere, the growth of service provider streamed video is massive.  They must find a more efficient way to do it and Akamai’s LCDN (Licensed CDN) fits that bill.

Marc:  Agreed. An interesting observation is that many of our customers degenerate from fully automated to manual deployment on these virtualized infrastructures, as for their operations staff, adopting orchestration has generally seemed too big of a step to take. The problem with not fully embracing automation is that in the end it can easily end up being more costly relative to manual, bare metal deployments. Now with an interesting use case that optimizes TCO to wrap their head around, we expect our customers will consider taking that step. For this reason, the Blue Planet orchestration solutions play a critical role.

Rob: Right. Historically, services have been deployed manually and then automated, which can be complex.  It made sense, but not with edge compute.  It is too costly to be static and there just aren’t enough resources and skill sets to deploy this manually for very long.  It needs to be automated on Day One and it isn’t that hard.  In his part of the MWC demo, Marco Naveda did an amazing job of demonstrating just how simple automation can be and how Blue Planet can help automate the Akamai LCDN, the Affirmed vEPC, and the enterprise edge, including IoT and vCPE.

Marc: You’ve heard me state over the last couple of months that the Edge Compute economics is all about having multiple passengers on the bus... multiple software appliances effectively utilizing a shared network and server infrastructure through automation, not just for video, but for many edge-oriented services to arrive at a significantly lower cost of ownership relative to conventional approaches.

For this reason, it is critical for Akamai that there are other passengers on the Blue Planet bus to make edge compute economics work. It’s been gratifying that customers see the possibilities after viewing the demo in our booth. That’s an exciting prospect, as Akamai has a growing number of solutions (e.g. multicast, security, and more) that can be orchestrated to operate on edge compute infrastructure.

Rob: Absolutely. New and popular use cases are force multipliers, advancing the industry and making it more virtualized.  Clearly vCPE and vEPC – along with 5G and IoT – will be critical use cases.  After hearing for years that 5G will drive edge compute, I was impressed to hear service providers’ pragmatic advice that LTE will live alongside 5G for years to come and that they wanted a similar virtualized core with control and user plane separate for LTE.  I was also very impressed by many operators that don’t want to hear about physical solutions. They want virtualized solutions.  In their mind, there is no other path forward.

Marc:  While virtualization appears inevitable at the edge, it will only come to fruition when it is fully automated.

Rob:  That’s why I’m so excited about the next six months!  The feedback has been clear.  I’m looking forward leveraging the power of Blue Planet with Akamai, Affirmed, and others to deliver on our vision of service provider edge compute with a wide variety of solutions. We are going to fill the bus!

Marc: (Laughing) We look forward to it!