Edge environments were historically very specialized, but virtualization and cloud technology is enabling companies to deploy commodity platforms at the edge. This episode of Utilizing Edge features Raghu Vatte of ZEDEDA discussing this commoditization with Alastair Cooke and Stephen Foskett. Although the transition is still getting started, standard compute platforms are rapidly being exploited at edge locations, from warehouses to retail to industrial. Even is some specialized hardware is still needed, a unified platform can increasingly absorb a majority of applications at the edge. Another factor contributing to commoditization is the standardization of application requirements, with most now virtualized or containerized with standards developing for I/O and shared hardware resources.
Hosts and Guest:
Stephen Foskett: Welcome to Utilizing Tech, the podcast about emerging technology from Gestalt IT. This season of Utilizing Tech focuses on edge computing, which demands a new approach to compute storage, networking, and more. I’m your host, Stephen Foskett, organizer of Tech Field Day and publisher of Gestalt IT. Joining me today as my co-host is Alastair Cooke.
Alastair Cooke: Thanks, Stephen. I’m a blogger, trainer, and analyst, and I have a side interest in microcontrollers. I’ve been working with embedded systems since it was a bit, microcontrollers in clock speed in the kilohertz. So, I’m interested to see just how much things have changed and the hard way that we’ve been pulling up to solve using solutions.
Stephen Foskett: Yeah, that’s a real good point, Alastair. You and I are both data center veterans and have experience in retail environments. It used to be that these things were a total mess. It was all a bunch of proprietary hardware, specialized systems. You had to buy different things from different vendors. Even the backhaul, the networks, the management, everything was completely proprietary.
Alastair Cooke: Yeah, nobody trusted anybody else. There was no consistency. There was no underlying platform that was used across it. When you needed to provide Wi-Fi for your customers, it was a whole other connection coming in. When you bought your inventory control system, it was a new appliance that just got shoved into a rack, and you paid ridiculous amounts of money for these things.
Stephen Foskett: And they didn’t provide any kind of advanced services or anything either. I mean, failover things like that, they just were unheard of. A lot of the stuff had to go back to the central office. And I think that a lot of that is changing, as we saw at Edge Field Day and as we are going to see at the next Edge Field Day event. A lot of people are standardizing and commoditizing in a way. It reminds me a little of the cloud and a little of the data center, but with a real edge twist. And that’s why we’ve invited Raghu Vatte, VP of product management and customer success for Zededa, to join us today. Welcome to the show, Raghu.
Raghu Vatte: Hey, Stephen. How are you doing?
Stephen Foskett: Great, it’s great to have you here on Episode One of this season of Utilizing Tech. I think we’re calling it Utilizing Edge. We saw you present at an Edge Field Day, and I think it’s really interesting because the goal of Zededa seems to be to commoditize how people can consume the edge, help people develop the edge, and to build a standardized platform for running applications at the edge. Is that right?
Raghu Vatte: Yes, so Zededa does not actually build hardware, but what we wanted to do was commoditize how people can consume the edge, help people develop the edge. This is the same team that we have seen earlier about the data centers and the cloud. These are very specialized, high-skilled environments, but once you have abstracted out the high-skilled nature of it or the specialized nature of it, then the adoption of those environments exploded. The same thing happened with the data center where people started consuming it at a very high scale, and also with the standardized way of developing things on the center. Now, a few years later, we see the same exact trend happening in the cloud, where now the hyperscalers are able to provide very specialized services, but for the people who are consuming it, it is a very standard, very easy way to consume. And more importantly, for people who are developing it, it is a very standard way. This created an explosion of the use of both the data centers and the cloud, and also the services that could be offered on top of them. We currently see a very similar trend happening in the edge. It is a very special beast in itself, right? Everything from the hardware to all the services and applications, and how people consume it, it’s a very different thing than cloud and the data center. But once those specialized functions are abstracted out and are provided as a platform where this platform is now consumed by the customers and the end-users in the same way that they would consider a data center or the cloud and develop applications for it, then you can use the same boat post to do this. What we feel at Zededa is that you can bring a lot of services and a lot of applications to the edge much quicker. You can bring them in a way that is economical and that makes it very easy for the end-user to use. That is what I feel about the commodity side of the picture, right from hardware all the way to the services.
Alastair Cooke: I think there’s a really important part in here of seeing a unified platform, instead of the disparate platforms that Stephen and I were talking about in the older edge solutions. Is that what you’re bringing as a platform, on which you can deploy a variety of things, but which delivers a whole collection of services towards making it easy to deploy those applications? Is this a trend you’re seeing with the customers who are actually buying the platforms, that they are tending to standardize on this one platform at the edge locations? Or are they still being left with a lot of legacy architecture that they can’t necessarily back across?
Raghu Vatte: We actually see a very high desire of standardizing on one unified platform. But the reality is that customers have actually already invested in a lot of platforms, and these things are going to stay. They are not going to be out in a day just because there is a new shiny thing that people can get their hands on. So, the trick and also the right thing to do is to be able to give a path out of all of the current platforms or integrate into those platforms so that you are not going to encourage a very high cost of moving from one to another. But providing that path is the most important thing because there are applications and services that are being offered by the current existing platforms, and that is the bread-and-butter of this company. No one is going to take the risk of saying, “Hey, I’m going to yank this whole thing out, put a new thing in,” because this is an unknown commodity at the end of the day. By providing that seamless path, like a step-by-step, small steps, what you can do is fulfill the desire of saying, “OK, I am currently operating in one way here, but the other way of the unified platform that can now help me implement my edge is the right way. But how do I go from one to another?” Doing the small steps, incremental steps, is the most important thing, but the desire itself is clearly there, and it is almost like a stated goal in every single one that we talked to.
Alastair Cooke: But I think it’s important to recognize the dirty secret of the edge, which is that it’s not all just containers and newly built applications. There’s an awful lot of legacy Windows applications still running out there and a unified platform really needs to support those as well.
Raghu Vatte: Oh yeah, definitely. Right, and this is what I was talking about, the bread and butter. There are so many applications, right from your Scott applications to the homegrown things that are running low. And again, I think like we have the whole dating ourselves by talking about Windows. I hear a lot of people coming to me and telling me, “Hey, my legacy Linux VM.” Like, okay, so that has already become your legacy. Okay, and like my legacy Docker, I don’t even want to go into that picture, but the thing is, talking about Windows or Linux and Dockers and a newer times, all of them together is a norm right now. Okay, I have not been to a single call where people are coming to us and saying, “Here, we have this huge fleet of Windows applications. We want you to help us manage it.” That is not what we are seeing. What we are saying is if you have this huge fleet of Windows or Linux applications that we depend on, but there is a digitization that we want to do and we want to go from A to B. And B is very clearly a containerized world. And it is not just about the form factor of the application, but what do you do with it, how you interact with it, right? So those are the places they want to go. And they don’t want to go in one shot. But most importantly, they want to have the insurance of, “I want to keep running this. I want to add this sidecar application that will provide this value on the existing one, and slowly I want to move from my older generation applications to a new generation application.” And that is what we see here. And I think that is the right way of going because these applications have been built to run for tens of years. And now you are not going to just go and pull them out, and it is not the right thing to have them out. So graduating, that is what we see.
Stephen Foskett: And if you’re gonna be reinventing anyway, you might as well reinvent on modern infrastructure and standardization and virtualization and containers, and in orchestration and salon instead of you know, deploying more oh, I guess future technical debt at one of the things I want to bring up as well is and we’re gonna be bringing this up on every episode the season is edge, an edge and edge. There’s different edges and there’s different places that were talking. Raghu, I’d love to get your perspective on this question. So when you are looking at people deploying a standardized commoditized infrastructure for running applications, is that more prevalent in, for example, retail or industrial IoT or you know all the other locations mining transportation food service? Where is which areas have different needs?
Raghu Vatte: Oh, there is a very clear desire to commoditize the hardware. It’s happening for multiple reasons, and if we go back in time, not forever, like 5 or 6 years ago, people would choose a hardware and say like, “OK, this is a hardware. These are the specs that I want, everything from environmental still ruggedized to like compute to I/O and everything else.” And security too, they’ll say, “OK, this is what I have and like I want to build applications with it.” That has changed, that has changed because of multiple reasons, but it has changed basically because it’s very easy to produce a level of computer nowadays that is cheap but more importantly, it’s also reliable to a certain extent. Again, there are still very large sectors which have to deal with specialized equipment that is not going away, but equally large areas of the edge are now taking a step back and saying, “Do I really need to spend so much on the specialized equipment? Can I not just have a commodity hardware and put that resiliency and all the other intelligence into the software layer rather than into the hardware?” So that is what is happening, busy that quite a bit.
Stephen Foskett: So, but I agree with you, but is that more prevalent in, for example, retail or food service than in manufacturing? Different verticals that are more willing to go with commodity platforms?
Raghu Vatte: So, I would say like the retail sector, some of the manufacturing sectors, the energy sectors, all of these sectors are trying to add verticals and are trying to go to the commodity hardware. They are trying to go to the commodity hardware. I have seen people who used to run real-time operating systems on very specialized equipment in the industrial space telling me that they want to take away that specialized equipment and run this real-time operating system on commodity hardware. You name it, right? That is one thing that is happening.
Raghu Vatte: The second very important thing that happened, at least in the past few years, it’s just a supply chain issue. Because of the supply chain issues, what happened is like all these industries really got into it. When you have a service to deploy, you want to reply to your service and love when your service is dependent on a power supply not being available in the supply chain somewhere, and your whole fleet not being able to deploy. Now people are taking a very deep look at their actual service chain, and then they’re saying, “If I am dependent on these kinds of things, then I am going to have a risk in my service department.” And now they are forcing everyone up the stack or their vendors saying that, “I don’t want to be tied to a single hardware platform, neither am I tied to a single architecture. I want to have the ability to pick and choose multiple different types of hardware, but I want you to make sure that your applications would be able to run. And all of these, give me the minimum viable hardware that you want that you want so that your application second one, and I will sort it from five different places. And once you do that, you should be able to run these applications.”
Raghu Vatte: So, what that makes is a very big change in my mind, right? What it makes us like create this barrier of entry audit lowers the body of entry for this hardware hardware vendors, and now a lot more people can join that group, and because the land was a lot more people to join the group, that is more innovation. There are more different varieties of hardware that are available. You can get something that is available where the parts are available for 10 years and costs X amount of dollars versus the same similar kind of hardware where now the parts are only guaranteed for three years, and it causes more. Right now, depending on you are useless and depending on what you want to deliver, you can choose X or Y. Now, that is a very big sea change, and also the fact that these both X and Y are the same are also very reliable to begin with. Now we are not talking about the reliability of 70 ersus 90 or 95%. So, you’ve already crossed that one.
Alastair Cooke: But I think there’s been quite a change in what constitutes commodity hardware as well. I’ve been sitting at a training that x86 CPUs, which fundamentally drove a lot of our virtualization. Oh, and things that don’t look like a PC, even from mainstream vendors, we’re seeing smaller and smaller things. At Edge Field Day 1, we talked a lot about Intel NUCs being a really small form factor, but there are a lot more industrial-type small form factors with fan Lewisburg heatsinks and lots of I/O ports on them, but they still come under the category of being commodity. These sorts of things would not have been interchangeable 10 years ago, and so I think that says we are in Raghu’s point about that supply chain risk being reduced because you can simply switch out from the device that’s unavailable to another near-equivalent device much more easily. Neither of these devices are things that, as a normal IT consumer, you need to see on your desk, but they are still replaceable, interchangeable, and the whole idea of being commodity hardware. It’s got a number for a wide range of what is commodity than what used to be.
Raghu Vatte: I completely agree with you. A list of the other portions that make this hardware commodity is the application setup running on top of the tree. At the end of the day, the way you develop those applications makes the Sycamore tick. If you are binding your application very closely to that particular type of hardware at that particular model, then it is very hard to make it come out as butter in the prints, especially under IV. You have to go back to the cloud and see how cloudy is being developed. Applications for the cloud are being developed right, and you don’t really know what hardware is underneath. So everyone is developing whether it’s a virtual machine or a container or some other fun fact. What you’re developing is based on a framework that has nothing to do with the hardware underneath, and on edge, it’s a little bit trickier because you’re not going to say, “Hey, I want to deploy something on the cloud,” but it needs to have the serial port connected to it. That’s not a very common thing, but it’s a very, very common thing on the edge.
Raghu Vatte: One of the things that are happening in terms of the virtualization of these things is virtualization and sharing of these resources among multiple different applications. This is a very big step towards commodities in the hardware. It’s not just about the hardware’s availability, but how you use it by virtualizing it by introducing that virtualization layer on top of this hardware and then being able to run your applications on top of that virtualization layer and pass the resources, whether it’s the Internet, GPUs, Odyssey, real, or USB, or a display. All of these things, when you do that, now all of a sudden, your application is no longer tied very, very at the hip to the side. And that is a very big change that happened, I would say, in the last 5 to 6 years that makes this whole process possible.
Raghu Vatte: Also, the form factor of that virtualization layer has become smaller and smaller. So now you can dream about putting those things onto very small devices. For example, the smallest device that is out in production on a very large scale for Zededa is a form factor of a Raspberry Pi. We are no longer talking about this large specialized equipment to run virtualization, right? We are talking about these very small devices that will run virtualization. Then you can develop applications on this device just like you develop applications on a very large device which has a full-fledged virtualization layer on top of it. So, this is something that makes the whole underneath clear commodity, and because these two things are coming together in the last one or two years or three years, you can now take advantage of the full stack.
Stephen Foskett: Yeah, I’ve definitely experienced that. I have pulled out my hair trying to figure out which port is this thing. How come it changed? You know, how come the USB port is specified with this completely different nomenclature on this other system, or even a different port, a different device is suddenly dev- what? And similarly, I pulled out my hair trying to use a lot of oddball small form factor hardware. I mean, no dig against ARM generally, but in my experience, a lot of the Intel small form factor hardware is just a lot easier to understand and use than a lot of the more specialized. You mentioned Raspberry Pi, I know you were just using that as an example for the form factor, but honestly, a lot of those are alternative ARM platforms, and it’s hard to get everything up and running, all the devices working, and figure out the device driver situation, whereas, you know, I think one reason the Intel NUC has taken off so well is because they freaking work. I mean, they’re standard chips, standard interfaces, you know, you can run standard software on them, and it’s just a much more friendly and supportable environment. Still, and of course, we’re seeing, as Al mentioned as well, this whole world of families solutions that use everything from Xeon D down to the Pentium in a next generation, you know, Adam, and we’re looking forward to seeing more Intel’s going with that, we’re MDs going with that, to see even more in a fanless ruggedized sealed boxes. So all of these things, I think, are contributing, but one of the things you said in their region that really resonates with me is flipping that upside down and looking at the standardization of the application. That is so true. None of this can work if the application expects specialized hardware, but increasingly applications that are being run out there are able to adapt to a virtual environment or internet come to be expecting a virtual environment. Is there any way I think that you’re seeing a particularly strong in that optically week, and that in terms of the applications that are running on an environment like this?
Raghu Vatte: It’s not about stronger week, but I want to think about it as simple and complex. So there are applications that are running where they are developed assuming that the set of resources are available. Now it is, they’re not tied to the hardware in terms of the exact same resources, but they would say, “Hey, I need an ethernet port, I need a GPU, I need a display port, and a USB to do whatever I want to do,” right? That’s one kind of an application where the application definition encompasses every single thing, and now you just apply and deploy based on the resources that are available. If you want to deploy it at a site where the resources are not available, you just go back and figure out another place. Or if that is the location that is the application need to reply, then you say, “OK, this is not possible,” and that’s good. I consider that falling into the simpler applications, where it is very easy black-and-white, I like to say.
Raghu Vatte: But then there are the other types of applications that are becoming more and more prevalent, is that people are taking this large stacks of applications that they’re used to running in data centers, in like a cloud, and everywhere, and they’re saying, “Why can’t it be on the same thing here?” It’s now the application is not about a single entity, but it is the full breadth of all the things that are done right. So you can connect, you sit with start with the connectivity solution, especially when we are talking within the edge. It can be connectivity over Wi-Fi or LTE or any internet, but then SD-WAN or a cloud connectors, these are things that come in very easily, and then they always have like a firewall element, IDSIPS element. Those things are already part of that, and then there are what’s your machines, containers, run times, you name it, so as a whole, this application is providing an outcome. Now, all of a sudden, the complexity of the application increases quite a bit because it is no longer about, “Am I running a VM or a container?” It is about, “I’m running all of this in a certain way that the outcome is satisfied.” Sometimes, even very sophisticated techniques that are used in the cabinet is world order, and in the cloud of a horizontal, Skellinger resiliency, the author restart. All of these things are put into place in this application definition. No, those are the things that make edge very interesting on one hand, but they also make it very similar to the applications or the solutions that I deployed in the cloud or the data center. And that is where a lot of the commoditization that we talked about comes back into the picture because you’ve done this once. Now, the demands that I put on the infrastructure, there are very heavy because now you’re taking two or three smaller very small devices. Intel NUCs are a great example or even on right like an M1 is not as mature enough standardized, but it is getting that we see a lot of onto.
Alastair Cooke: Yeah, we do like to say that the edge isn’t like the cloud and yes, it is like the cloud because we want to be able to deploy applications out to areas locations the same way we deploy them out to cloud locations. We want to be integrating with our CI/CD pipelines to get the application updates out. I am, but we don’t have the massive elasticity that you get with public cloud. We’re simply building this tiny micro cloud at each average location, yet we still want to be able to have pooling and sharing of resources as well. That’s a really important thing of having emotional stakeholders in there as well, just a single edge deployment. You may well have three different business units who have applications down at that one each location, and they’re all authorized to make changes just to be a little part of it. So, there’s a whole lot more security foundation we expect from the cloud that needs to be built into the solution. There’s a lot of clouds. It’s an edge, but there’s a lot of clouds. It can’t be done any admission. Is a little inches in dichotomy there.
Raghu Vatte: How do I delete it? The way I look at it is like an evolution. When you went from the individual computers in a place to a data center, you took all the good things that you learned from there and applied it to the data center, and then you brought in a whole bunch of other things. The same thing happened to the cloud, and what is happening is that because edge is the next iteration of this technology, all the good things that are built in the cloud, everything from the way applications are developed to everything from the CI/CD pipelines, how they are deployed in the end locations, whether it is a jerk cloud, people are thinking, “Okay, I really think this is the right way of doing because this works perfectly well for me in the cloud, okay?” They’re not thinking about how to make this work on the edge. How do I make it as seamless as possible so that when I have to deploy an application in the cloud or in the edge, then I do it in the same way? All the goodness that we have developed in the past few years or in the past decade in the cloud is now being implemented on the edge. So, I think all those things will come to the edge, but like you rightfully said, the scale is not about how many computers or how many endpoints do I have in the cloud. Is it 100,000, is it 1 million? Now it is going to be the scale of how many clouds do you have? These are small micro clouds, and now you’re talking about 10,000 of these. We are talking about 100,000+ of these, and how do you manage 100,000+? No one has done that before, and it is a completely new kind of problem that people are trying to solve. But the good news is that there is a lot of learning that we have done in the past, and we are trying to address that. But I don’t want to forget what you said, which is very, very important. It is about the stakeholders too. It’s not only about how do I deploy these applications when it comes to edge because there is no real single entity that owns it. Everything from operational groups to security groups to development groups to make, you said they can be multiple operational groups in the same place, right? Now, how does how do you make that happen? How do you make it so seamless that when people try to let go and try to decline application, then they don’t have to think about 100 different things to just make their single application happen, right? Buy abstracting away all of those things that is what they will that is what will make edge possible and that is actually what will make up and scalable in terms of adoption.
Stephen Foskett: Yeah, I am really optimistic about it simply because of what you mentioned. I appreciate you bringing that up, Ragu, that we really are bringing the best of the things we’ve learned in data center computing, the things we’ve learned from cloud computing, especially, and we’re seeing those adapted at the edge in really exciting and interesting ways. Some of the things are being used well in ways that would surprise people, as we will, I’m sure, be talking about with Kubernetes. Some of the things are being used in ways that are quite predictable in terms of commodity hardware. But all of those things, I think, are really taking the best of the past and bringing it forward into this new environment. And I will say one thing as well that, especially as we learned at Edge Field Day, the companies that are approaching edge from the perspective of this is something new, this is something different, and I need to keep in touch with, as you say, the stakeholders in order to develop a product that’s appropriate for this. I think those companies are doing much, much better than the companies that look at it and say, let’s see if we can throw what we used to do into this and see how it works out. Because that’s just never gonna work because it is such a different environment. Nobody, as you say, nobody’s ever had to manage thousands of endpoints, thousands of locations, thousands of clouds before, and it takes a completely new mindset.
Stephen Foskett: So, I really appreciate this conversation. Thank you for helping us kick off season five of Utilizing Tech, where we’re gonna be focusing on edge computing. Raghu, before we go, where can people connect with you and continue this conversation?
Raghu Vatte: I think I got all the things that we talked about today and the best principles are the founding principles of why we created Zededa. And this is something that you can experience today. You can go to Zededa, and there is a self-sign-on if you want to experience Zededa. Just go in there, done that, he.com, www.zededa.com, and just sign up bar on the south side on, and you can start experiencing what it is to do this in a programmatic way. Where do I deploy these hundred thousand edge if you want to and be able to do fleet management of all these, I just, and do it. And that is driven by intention, driven by policy rather than one. So, again, www.zededa.com. Just go in and like I use the self-sign-on button and pick away and start experiencing Zededa and see what edge is really about.
Stephen Foskett: Thanks for that and I would also recommend checking out the presentations from Edge Field Day 1. You can find them at TechFieldDay.com or just Google Zededa and Field Day, and you’ll find them.
Alastair Cooke: You can find me through my own website demitasse.co.nz, where I write my own content, but also a big part of my life is being involved with the vBrownBag podcast and having community members helping to educate other community members. Take a look at the vBrownBag.com or the YouTube channel for the vBrownBag. We are everywhere, and hopefully, we’ll see some of you in person or virtually. I’ll be at more events this year, and maybe even we’ll see a return of the Build Day Live events. I’m really looking forward to getting back to doing that travel.
Stephen Foskett: Yeah, that is a lot of fun. I definitely recommend checking that out, and it’s also a great community, especially as you stay on-site at those events. Also, please do look out for another Edge Field Day event coming soon. Go to TechFieldDay.com to learn about that. And I also recommend checking out the Gestalt IT Rundown, our weekly news show on Wednesdays, as well as the On-Premise IT Podcast every Tuesday.
Stephen Foskett: Thank you for listening to Utilizing Edge, part of the Utilizing Tech podcast series. If you enjoyed this discussion, please do subscribe in your favorite application. You can find us in pretty much every podcast application under Utilizing Tech, and please do give us a rating and review. I know everybody asks for that, but it really does help, especially now that we’re changing topics here with Season 5. You can also find us on YouTube. Just go to youtube.com/GestaltITVideo. This podcast is brought to you by gestaltit.com, your home for IT coverage from across the enterprise. For show notes and more episodes, go to our special site, UtilizingTech.com, or find us on Twitter and Mastodon at Utilizing Tech. Thanks for listening to Episode 1 of Season 5 of Utilizing Tech: Utilizing Edge, and we’ll see you next week.