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What’s past is prologue: Vapor setting the stage for a whole new internet

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Today, when it comes to companies and experts riding the hype train it’s often associated with blockchain solutions that really aren’t ready to solve much of anything. Some need to get their crypto-tokens all in a row first, others aren’t sure whether they want to be public or private, or a little bit of both.

It’s not just blockchain solutions, either. It’s anything related to so-called “smart cities.” From all the media attention you might think that these utopian meccas already exist, and the people that inhabit them are leading dream lives among their IoT devices in the babbling brooks of their gig economies.

We see a lot of ambitious plans. We hear a lot of talk. We even hear a lot of talk about how there shouldn’t be so much hype.

At the same time, unassumingly, some of the best-laid plans are literally being laid down one data center at a time in real-life cities like Chicago.

In somewhat technical terms, here’s the long and short of how what Vapor.io and their Kinetic Edge infrastructure is all about: Every Kinetic Edge city has multiple micro data centers arranged in a ring and spaced at 10-20 kilometer increments (that’s about 6-12 miles). These nodes are then meshed together with high-speed fiber for load balancing, resilience and workload migration.  

They’ll play a key role in everything from autonomous, to final-mile delivery applications, to IoT solutions and smart cities as a whole. The data has to be processed in a decentralized way, and it has to be aggregated from regional centers—not just a centralized cloud possibly far away. 

By employing the Kinetic Edge’s software-defined networking, tenants can create VLANs that span multiple sites—both Vapor IO sites and third party sites—in order to create city-sized logical data centers with multiple availability zones. They’re also remotely operable, highly redundant, and—for a variety of reasons—highly secure.

They build Kinetic Edge data centers at the base of cell towers and in nearby aggregation hubs in order to seamlessly bridge today’s legacy internet with the emerging, high-speed wireless edge. By integrating with the existing wireless infrastructure, Kinetic Edge data centers are optimally located near population centers. For the first time in history, it’s becoming possible to get equipment and applications within milliseconds of hundreds of millions of end users and devices. And that is becoming necessary due to the sheer density of the digital universe we’re living in. 

How do you create longer battery life, faster and higher quality rendering and speed? As Cole Crawford, founder and CEO of Vapor IO tells FreightWaves in an exclusive interview, “You must do it with the ability for much faster compute than where we currently are today. Where we want to be is to have access to local channels that can house and host this data and where it’s easily accessed in real-time. The infrastructure for the ability to compute data at exponentially faster speeds is why the application of things like the Kinetic Edge are so important.”

“What’s past is prologue,” Cole begins, quoting Shakespeare from his play The Tempest. The phrase was originally used in The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I. Antonio uses it to suggest that all that has happened before that time, the “past,” has led Sebastian and himself to this opportunity to do what they are about to do: commit murder, or make another choice.

Today, the phrase stands for the idea that history sets the context for the present. The quotation is also engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and is commonly used by the military when discussing the similarities between war throughout history.

It seems appropriate as well in considering how everything, including the internet and then the cloud, has led to this moment.

“Today, when we deal with client-server traffic, we typically work with it in a horizontal traffic environment, and it’s not that latency-sensitive, and it’s basically cloud-based,” says Crawford. “We talk about the transformation of the large, iron mainframes and then in the early 2000s we went from vertically integrated to horizontally integrated,” he adds. 

“Large CSPs (Cloud Service Providers) and the end-users—the types of data are more—the growth is machine to machine—user-generated data,” he says. “All the new features on a new apple iWatch and what they can do with the data is being generated. That’s not something that can be in a cloud. It needs geographical distribution. Everything from the fiber in the ground, the wifi, the way the data gets from that watch to the core infrastructure to say the Apple cloud. There’s real money involved with the backhaul. It’s literally how the user-generated or edge-generated data gets back from the edge to the cloud. The distribution of data is actually becoming decentralized again.”

The infrastructure is coming everywhere, not just to large cities. “The tier of the city doesn’t matter to the device,” says Crawford. 

It takes a lot of compute and coordination to make it all work, and the company has had their collective heads down and developing these very solutions for a few years now. They also recently closed on their Series C financing which ensures them the ability to secure the Kinetic Edge.

“In context to the bits and bytes that go from the network to the cloud. You have to get a lot of things correct there. You have to get the telemetry of the network and the IP structure and the environment where the data is housed correct. You have to get that from a geographical, literal location to the cloud,” he says. “What Vapor has always thought is that we take an opinion that the Edge is going to be built software down, not brick and mortar up.” 

“We pioneered a Vapor chamber which is subdividable into six cylindrical chambers, in which each has the same capabilities. You can have as many racks as you want. We’ve turned our technology into a modular system, which allows for multidensity, which is a big thing. We’ve solved how different networks can operate at different densities at the same time. We’ve solved how to get it the right amount of air,” says Crawford.

It’s not always easy to follow Cole Crawford’s technical-speak. Phrases like “rack densities,” “manipulation of atoms and manipulation of bits,” “telemetry,” “latency and rendering,” and “multi-tenancy” whirr past in assemblages of verbs and nouns and dependent clauses. What you do get a clear sense of, however, is that a powerful and open source data software is the engine that runs the hardware ship. While Crawford doesn’t find the need to specifically call it blockchain, he says it will function in much the same way.  

The company does not, in other words, consider itself a blockchain company. They consider themselves to have evolved from a “vendor of entry infrastructure,” to “become an edge-native colocation company.” And while Crawford doesn’t expect any one company to completely build the edge, the Kinetic Edge is currently the only multi-tenant structure out there.

As an example of how it works, Crawford talks about drones. “Drones are even more challenging—untethered from roads and lights and traveling through three-dimensional space and have to be dimensionally aware,” he says. “If we take our Kinetic Edge in Chicago and look at the urban core, and the freeway corridor that exists on that, you have maybe 75-100 miles of single-strand metro fiber. If we strategically place Vapor S modules/chambers, just imagine a drone flying across three-dimensional space—you know how your cell phone drops when you run out of cell tower space? The same thing happens with a drone—the companies put thousands of towers around cities to maintain the consistency.” 

“Whatever the mission of the drone is, it’s trying to offload data,” he explains. “It’s trying to get data to a human. It could be an emergency or whatever. When a drone is traveling across the city from say east to north, you can put the data streaming services together. When the drone is out of range from the first location, it can maintain the service of data streaming. The Kinetic Edge has to be built. It can’t be cell phone towers because they would have to be aggregated even for low-latency data. Why would the infrastructure live on the east side of the city versus the north? That is 100% the business of the edge.”

“Blockchain will have a role to play in the re-architecture of the internet,” Crawford concludes, but the edge is something that plays a vital role in tying it all together. “I’m gonna go bold, it means a new internet. The internet needs to be re-architectured.”

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.
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