With $90 million in newly raised funding, start-up Vapor IO plans to bring edge computing to 20 U.S. cities this year. It is already operating multiple edge sites in four cities: Chicago, Illinois; Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The company has another 16 markets in the “pre-construction” phase, which are expected to be built out this year. By the end of 2021, Vapor plans to have its “Kinetic Edge” platform available in the top 36 U.S. metro areas and reach about 70% of the U.S. population.
The other 16 cities planned for deployment this year are: Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Boston, Massachusetts; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles and San Francisco, California; Miami, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix, Arizona; Seattle, Washington; and Washington D.C.
Vapor also has its first customer for that national network: Cloudflare has committed to rolling out its Cloudflare Workers platform on Vapor IO’s edge network.
That $90 million represents an extended Series C funding round for the company, and includes additional funding from Vapor IO backer Crown Castle as well as private equity firm Berkshire Partners.
“With a total of 36 multi-site markets coming online over the next 24 months, we expect to be the largest provider of edge colocation, edge networking, and edge exchange services in close proximity to the last mile networks,” said Cole Crawford, founder and CEO of Vapor IO, in a statement.
Vapor IO CMO Matt Trifiro said that for Vapor, the 36-city deployment will translate to between 75 to 100 of its compact data centers, with multiple locations in each city. That mesh approach is part of Vapor’s strategy to provide high reliability, because workloads are spread across multiple edge locations within a city with software-based failover to maintain applications even if a Vapor site has issues — without, Trifiro noted, the high costs associated with an infrastructure-heavy Tier IV data center that guarantees extremely high up-time.
“By the end of 2021, we expect to be live in 36 cities and to be the only company that has a nationwide, end-to-end, coast-to-coast edge solution on the infrastructure side of the network,” said Trifiro. He called Cloudflare’s signing on for edge deployment “a signal of how real this is.”
Still, for all the new momentum that edge computing is gaining, with network operators such as AT&T saying that 2020 “will be the year of edge” and Verizon among a group of global operators launching a MEC and 5G interoperability group, Trifiro says that Vapor’s deployment is “the culmination of years and years of work, in mechanical engineering, software engineering, land acquisition, fiber route acquisition and permitting” — and that level of physical infrastructure deployment won’t be easy to duplicate.
“The time it takes to even just get the permits in a market can be 24-36 months,” he said. “So if you’re saying you’re going to deploy an edge solution in 2020 or 2021, you’d better be in line for permits — starting, potentially, years ago.”
While regional data center players may say that the speed of light via fiber enables them to provide low-millisecond latency, Trifiro says that “the reality is, it’s a lot uglier than that. … There’s a tremendous amount of complexity in that middle-mile networking, and if you look at the components that go into creating latency, it’s a combination of both distance … [and]the network hops,” he said. “If your signal has to traverse six or seven hops or routers between the edge and a regional data center, you have eliminated a lot of low-latency applications that could be deployed,” he added.
Trifiro also said that Vapor’s deployment process means that those “pre-construction” phase cities can be turned up rapidly. The company goes into a market and examines about a dozen sites as well as identifying all the local fiber, power and cable/wireline access networks, narrows the sites down to three as a beginning point, outfits each site with a concrete pad if necessary and prepares all the related connectivity needs, and at that point, essentially just needs its Vapor Edge Modules to be trucked in and placed via crane. From being “Vapor Edge Module-ready” to being a fully operating edge site can take just weeks, he added.
Asked about the biggest challenge for edge application deployment, Trifiro said that he sees it as the “complexity of the supply chain. You need last-mile networks, you need a wireless operator or a wired operator, you need a colocation facility, you need middle-mile networking, you need an internet exchange, you need middleware for orchestration, you need tools for monitoring and auditing — you need all these things. And today, I think that if you had to do that all yourself, it would be a gargantuan task.”
What he has seen happening in 2019 and into 2020, he says, is that companies deploying on Vapor’s network are infrastructure companies — most of which he can’t name — “like the CDNs, like the cloud providers, like the telco operators.”
“You should not be surprised if at some point in the near future some of those [companies that are talking]… about edge strategies will announced that they are actually in many municipalities, using our facilities,” he hinted.
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