By: Jeff Sharp

As Coronavirus has forced social distancing to take over most of our lives, companies have been relying on and enforcing remote working policies. This has led many employees to master the art of video-conferencing, adopt new file sharing services, making more calls to colleagues, and spend more time online and emailing.

Our world is becoming increasingly data-driven, and this new “normal” has only accelerated that process. The World Economic Forum estimates that there is 44 ZB of accumulated data generated by this year. That’s 44 sextillion bytes – 40 times more bits of data than the number of stars that exist in the (observable) universe.

As companies and workers are now relying more and more on such digital platforms to stay connected, this huge increase in data usage has put some strain on our internet and mobile infrastructure. Workplace communication tools such as Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams are now more important than ever, with Teams seeing a drastic increase from 20 million to 75 million active daily users from November 2019 to April 2020. Even entertainment companies are seeing a need to improve their infrastructure. YouTube saw immense growth in viewership traffic starting in April, and Netflix gained 15.77 million new paid subscribers globally between February and April, well above their predicted 7 million.

These software companies’ ability to meet the demands of this growing traffic is entirely dependent on the capacity of their network and data infrastructure. Netflix and YouTube had to enact resolution caps to keep up with the increased traffic, while Zoom couldn’t handle the initial stress and crashed. As businesses will require more and more real-time decision-making, streaming data becomes paramount – which translates to additional investments in the latest 5G and hardware solutions.

Latency and system degradation from an abundance of users can be mitigated by the inherent capabilities of 5G, making the current opportunity for this rising technology huge.

The big opportunity

This demand for improved digital infrastructure is driving the development and adoption of new 5G, Edge and IoT technologies. There are ultimately two opportunities for the two major parts of the network.

The first is the core network, which is slowly trending towards cloud-native and virtualized systems. This capability is thanks to the widespread adoption and advancement of machine learning solutions. One of the basic premises of 5G networks is that they are designed to leverage virtualisation and containers on open hardware platforms to reduce dependence on proprietary legacy hardware. Hence the market is embracing new hardware solutions that adopt open 5G RAN architecture for the evolution of 4G to 5G networks.

The second is the radio itself, which is constrained by the digital signal processing. While the radio can be operated in controlled environment like a core or regional datacenter – in rural of widespread urban areas it needs to be moved closer to where bay stations are located. 5G holds the promise of 1,000 times more bandwidth than 4G and LTE, a tenth of the latency, and the ability to support millions of connected devices per mile, a significant capability in the era of IoT.

The demands of these new 5G applications is pushing data centers out to the edge, empowering new and improved hardware solutions for both storage and compute. The most notable being new forms of micro data centers being developed on the market. Some are the size of a refrigerator, making it easier for businesses to build and manage localized data centers in cramped or urban locations. And others are essentially a “data center on a pole,” designed to survive harsh environments and allow compact edge computing solutions to be built into small cells and cell towers themselves.

The next stage

Ultimately, these two opportunities are closely intertwined. As data center technology is being designed for 5G and the edge, there is a need for increased performance, open-source software and new data standards to adapt to 5G applications, like virtual shopping experiences for retailers or connected wearable and internal health devices. Agile software-defined infrastructure capable of supporting simultaneous apps will be a requirement for many 5G use cases.

For what this should eventually look like: Radio Access Networks (RAN) should be centralised and virtualised into server-based Centralised Units (CUs) and Distributed Units (DUs), slimming down fixed-function hardware into Remote Radio Units (RRUs). With this in place, specially designed servers at the edge of the network can support real-time applications (such as interfacing with smart home devices) with basic computing and AI inferencing. And for the network itself, the 4G Evolved Packet Core (EPC) functions can be exchanged with 5G Core components executed as virtualised network functions (VNFs) through the cloud and remote data centers.

With this type of infrastructure – dependable data centres, the cloud, virtualised RAN, and edge computing all working together – businesses can best deliver on the promises of oft-touted 5G applications. It will allow any enterprise to effectively deploy and manage widespread deployments and networks across the cloud and customer environments – vital for scenarios where a company’s workforce is spread across a wide area, such as the current remote work reality.

This is particularly needed for modern IoT deployments, or edge computing solutions that require continuous AI inferencing. This new type of virtualized architecture is allowing businesses to adopt new and advanced AI compute models that are pushing machine learning solutions at the edge forward. But to properly take advantage of this for 5G implementations, businesses require optimised hardware and intensive virtualisation solutions.

These advanced IoT deployments combined with the continued spread of 5G networks to support them will drastically boost the development of smart cities, transportation, retail and entertainment by providing seamless computer automation and interfaces via wireless technology. It also will enable such technologies as AI and machine learning, data processing and analytics and virtual reality at the edge and will be crucial in the evolution of such new markets as autonomous vehicles.TAGS: 

Jeff Sharpe

Jeff Sharpe, Director of Embedded 5G/IoT Edge Solutions at Supermicro is focused on customer and market delivery of platforms and solutions to key IoT and Telecom markets. Jeff’s 37 years in the industry has focused on delivering best-in-breed networking, communications and IoT solutions while building product evolution strategies with customers and the industry. Prior to Supermicro, Jeff was with Adlink, Radisys & Nortel Networks.