Instead of a complex infrastructure deployment, latent computing resources could be used to support the edge computing needs of the IoT

The data processing and storage needs of the internet of things (IoT) will quickly become more than our current model of centralized, data center-based can handle. Additionally, latency-sensitive use cases command geographically decentralized resources as a function of physics. Known as edge computing, this decentralization is seen as an integral part of future networks. But where does all of this equipment go?

To draw a parallel, think of the myriad problems carriers have had deploying small cells at scale. Access to power, backhaul and site acquisition, as well as varying regulatory regimes, have significantly slowed operator ambitions related to network densification. Take that same paradigm and apply it to the servers, gateways and other network equipment that comprise edge computing at scale. Where is all of this stuff supposed to live? And, following a traditional real estate-based deployment model, could it even be deployed with enough velocity to support a rapid commercialization and monetization of 5G?

Meet Robert MacInnis, CEO and co-founder of ActiveAether. This is a nascent venture, but MacInnis has already commercialized AetherStore, a software solution that combines unused space on existing networked computers to create on-premise storage. So, in an enterprise context, say you have 1,000 workstations that are used 10 hours a day. Why not use the pooled, unused storage of those terminals to solve your storage needs and save a hefty, monthly bill from Amazon Web Services? Now, extend that concept beyond storage to compute power.

“Our technology,” MacInnis told RCR Wireless News, “enables the utilization of any computational resource whether it be a laptop, a tablet, even a smart phone, or a work station PC, or a server, or indeed your cloud endpoint, or any technology in the future for that matter, to be utilized as a provider of software services.”

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) is a collective-based approach to the monitoring and analysis of electromagnetic radiation for any markets that would suggest communications from aliens. UC Berkeley runs a project called SETI at Home wherein people like you or me can download a program that runs software to analyze data collected by radio telescopes.

“That is grid computing over the top of this end user resource pool,” MacInnis explained. “It has some success, some worldwide uptake, but it’s all donation-based, it’s all people lending their computing resources for free either for fun or for some good will activity.”

In the context of the IoT, projections vary but the long view is billions of devices will be connected to global networks in the coming years. Fun and goodwill won’t support that kind of scale.

“The easiest way do that is to pay them, basically,” MacInnis said. “In order to do that, for it be a truly global marketplace for compute, we need to have a truly global currency. For that we’ve got blockchain, and the technology of blockchain has been, by and large, proven out over the last few years.”

To fulfill this need, MacInnis has developed FogCoin, which will see an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) on Nov. 30. The goal is to support decentralized access to compute resources via a transactional medium that pays people who allow access to their machines.

“We’re trying to solve the bottleneck that’s coming with the 27 million new IoT devices everyday and 20 billion by 2020 that are going to be clogging the internet with data. I think edge computing infrastructure is not only important, but with 5G coming, that it’s already in place. We’ve already got five billion end user computing devices. If you link these up to a 5G network and use ActiveAether and FogCoin to get to the correct services onto the correct machines to process data, you’re already there. That’s my vision of the 5G future.” 

MacInnis and the ActiveAether team set up a booth at the recent Fog World Congress in Santa Clara, Calif. During that same conference, Alicia Abella, AT&T vice president of advanced technology realization, gave a keynote address, which largely covered AT&T’s vision of edge computing in support of 5G. Towards the end of her talk, Abella started to go into where this infrastructure would live–central offices, customer premises, on buildings and in data centers. We need to “take more advantage of the real estate that’s already there…to get closer to where the computation needs to happen.”

Then Abella brought up blockchain.. “When you think about bitcoins, they are an asset class that is providing a way to have transaction between peers in a distributed, decentralized manner. If the edge is distributed and decentralized, can we imagine now being allow for services to develop–think of it as crowd-souring your compute power you have in your pocket and your briefcases. What if you can crowd source that? I can now access your personal device to run some kind of computation that I might need to run some application or service. I compensate you for the fact that I’ve used this” with Bitcoins.

At the end of her talk, Abella only had time to take one question. MacInnis didn’t get called but had his hand raised high.

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