Packet's new CTO Ihab Tarazi is working on taking cloud-native architecture to the edge

Packet's new chief technology officer, Ihab Tarazi, has hit the ground running with a to-do list that includes moving the company's cloud-native architecture to the edge to better serve IoT and 5G applications.

Packet integrates software operating system (OS) platforms, including Kubernetes, into bare-metal servers in its public cloud that are hosted in Packet's data center. Packet's users, which include developers that work at enterprises, can pick their own hardware, which is then automated for use by Packet's software.

Since its founding in 2012, Packet has built a product based on microservices and software platforms that fully integrate with the larger platforms that its customers are using, such as Core OS or Linux, while also supporting a range of other platforms and operating systems.

Tarazi and Packet's plan is to move those cloud capabilities to the edge by partnering with cell tower companies.

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In a sense, Tarazi said such a model would mirror what the large cloud providers do but on a smaller scale at the edge. Tarazi said that Packet is currently the only vendor that is taking this approach, but he expects others to follow suit at some point.

"There are others that certainly have the capability of deploying distributed infrastructure around the world, such as Amazon Web Services or Google, but there is nobody focused on what Packet is focused on at the infrastructure layer," he said. "The hyperscalers have a completely different approach to deployments, massive versus small, and Packet is unique in its focus on the edge with cloud-native architecture and choice of hardware. 

"The hyperscale players definitely have the market advantage due to their dominance in the centralized public cloud and as such should be viewed as potential competitors. However, their focus is currently on a very different model than what will be successful at the edge."

After leaving his post as CTO of Equinix last year, Tarazi spent some time as an entrepreneur in residence at Sutter Hill Ventures.

"I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about how enterprise infrastructure is evolving in this new software world," said Tarazi, who also served as vice president of engineering and technology at Verizon for six years. "The change has been massive in terms of what the cloud has done and how customers are going to a public cloud model and hybrid cloud model. At the same time there has been massive growth for IoT and edge devices and soon enough 5G.

"As I talked to a lot of startups and looked at different technologies, that led me to this next phase, which is about taking this cloud-native architecture all the way to the edge."

The first phase of Packet's new edge compute strategy is providing new options for customers to get their workloads and colocation, specifically compute, as close to the edge as possible.

"One of the things we're going to do is team up with cell tower companies to deploy compute all the way at the edge by the cell towers and enable customers to use it an automated way just like we do today," he said. "The second thing we're going to do is solve some of the interconnection model issues at the cell towers so people can have low latency connectivity to the whole market.

"From there we are going to support new software platforms and operating systems that our people are developing specifically for the edge to connect directly with IoT, MEC (mobile edge computing) and 5G platforms."

While Tarazi wasn't ready to say which cell tower companies Packet was working with, he did say that this approach would allow those companies to expand beyond just supporting wireless infrastructure with the telcos to also support enterprises and cloud in their colocation at the edge.

"All of these cell towers that help with the telecommunications infrastructure, including 3G and 4G, will also be able to help with compute," he said. "That's the first piece. We also are working with multiple telcos to help them with IoT and MEC. We'll publish who those telcos are by the time of Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles because we're still in trials and tests with them."

The key to edge compute is enabling multiple locations with those cell towers, which will also include smaller cities and more remote locations than the large cloud providers currently serve.

"We have a lot of customers that have a software platform that say 'I would like some kind of bare-metal cloud solution in 20 locations in Houston, or 10 in Atlanta. Where can I get that?' We get customers asking for that and today that's not really possible because we're in 18 locations and also even the big public cloud providers are in one or two locations per market and only the big markets.

"We want to make it possible for them to be able to go to many more locations and more cities and be able to buy the service as a compute and activate the service in minutes."

With multiple steps to take, pieces of Packet's edge compute strategy will be in place this year with a more comprehensive product portfolio and engagements by the end of next year.

While there seem to be various definitions of what edge compute is, Packet, Vapor IO, Rafay Systems, Ericsson UDN, and ARM sponsored a recent report called "State of the Edge 2018" that defined what edge compute is and how the architectures are being built.

"I think there are a lot of misunderstandings on what edge compute is, which is why we did that report," Tarazi said. "What edge compute is, is that people want to have a lot of data and applications showing up at the edge. What they want is to be able to use servers for their applications and also storage in the future.

"So today what most people do is ship all of the data to the public cloud no matter where it is. Edge compute means you want to buy the same cloudlike services as close to you as possible locally."

More strategies

Tarazi said Packet will also team up with data center companies and continue to work on innovation with hardware vendors such as ARM and AMD. Some of that will include the development of better data center design, cooling and powering.

"A lot of those technologies are only available through the big six or seven cloud providers," he said. "We're going to make them available to the rest of the customers including the telcos. We are in deep discussions, testing and trials with two big telcos, and that's what we're doing for them. They have IoT as software only, and we're going to deploy the hardware and the cloud to make it happen around the world."

Packet open to open source

Tarazi said that Packet is working with multiple open source communities, which include LinkedIn's Open19 Foundation and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Packet is also a member of the Linux Foundation.

Packet has picked Open19 because it was designed to work in remote locations, which would dovetail with Packet's edge strategy. With LinkedIn joining the Open Compute Project earlier this year, Tarazi said Packet would probably become more involved in OCP.

Packet, which currently has about 45 employees, makes its headquarters in New York City, but Tarazi said he would lead the opening of a Silicon Valley office in the near future. Packet received $9.4 million in funding from SoftBank two years ago and is currently working on another round of funding.