It’s not all about the public cloud – Chorus eyes up market for edge computing services

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

The Courtenay Place telephone exchange in central Wellington is like a living museum charting the history of telecommunications in our country.

In the dusty, brick-lined lower floor, massive rubber-sheathed cables filled with thousands of strands of copper emerge from the outside world. These are what provide many businesses and homes in the central Wellington area with phone and broadband services.

The wires snake up through the ceiling and emerge on the floor above where they reappear as a massive jumble of red and white wires, coiled in rows of retro-looking racks. This is the heart of the exchange and has been for decades. 

But at the other end of the room sit a group of newer looking cabinets with masses of yellow cables plugged into them. This is the fibre optic connection point that feeds traffic to and from the ultrafast broadband network that is rapidly taking over from copper. As you make your way up the building the cabinets of equipment become increasingly modern and the security tighter until, several floors up, you enter a minimalist room lined with black racks of equipment.

Yellow means fibre – the cables connecting users to the ultrafast broadband network.

This is a Chorus EdgeCentre. The racks are filled with equipment from customers who want their computing tasks to be done at the heart of the telecommunications network. The story of computing over the last decade has been one of the shift from maintaining on-premises servers to hosting applications and computing tasks with public cloud providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure.

But a new trend is also seeing many businesses wanting to have data processed as close as possible to where it is generated. So-called edge computing is tipped to spur a wave of new applications, particularly in the Internet of Things space, as computing power to process data is located nearby, rather than on a server in another country.

The key advantage is lower latency – the amount of time it takes to transfer latency. But locating equipment closer to the edge can also save on bandwidth transfer costs. Many of Chorus’ existing EdgeCentre customers host equipment to cache copies of data, so service like video streaming can be hosted closer to the customer.

With four EdgeCentres in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga and Christchurch, Chorus says it is seeing strong appetite from customers, particularly internet service providers, keen to offer high-performance and low-latency applications directly over the fibre network.

Customers can scale up from one to 100 full racks of equipment. With 600 exchanges around the country, Chorus is now undertaking a push to repurpose its buildings as “distributed data services”.

The Chorus EdgeCentre in Wellington.

Umbrellar Connect caught up with Will Dodson, Chorus Product Manager – Colocation, in the bowels of the Courtenay Place exchange to discuss the potential in ultra-low-latency hybrid cloud services offered up by the new EdgeCentres.

Q&A

Many companies have had points of presence around the country for some years now to cache content and make it accessible more efficiently to people in certain regions. How does Chorus EdgeCentre differ from or expand on this?  

“It’s around being connected to the Chorus network, with Chorus fibre extending to nearly 90% of the population by the end of 2022 we provide direct connectivity to more customers and having points of presence and content literally in the room next door to the core network allows for faster, safer and more cost-effective connectivity.”

What was the impetus for setting up the EdgeCentre in Auckland?

“Mt Eden was chosen as our proof of concept site because the exchange itself was determined to be right at the top of our long term growth and resilience plans resulting in it being the first Chorus exchange to offer 100GB fibre handover links (HOL) and our Peering service whilst also currently offering metro, regional and national transport options.”

What sort of applications are companies typically running from the EdgeCentre – what applications is it best suited for? 

“EdgeCentre provides for a variety of applications and services. The largest uptake has been for content caching, noting Chorus’s traditional retail service provider (RSP) market, for bandwidth-intensive content (e.g. Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook). Following that the next level would be cloud computing providing options for private, public, and hybrid cloud solutions.  

“Our new Peering partnership with NZIX allows customers to easily implement hybrid solutions where private cloud is combined with public cloud utilising peering allowing for PCoIP [think virtual desktop computers] at a secure and redundant off-site but local facility.”

How does EdgeCentre differ from the data centre hosting that the likes of Datacom, Spark and the hyperscalers offer?  

“Full service data centres such as Datacom provide great options for managed solutions where your hardware is installed, maintained, and managed by the data centre allowing corporates to fully outsource their requirements.  

“To understand Hyperscale data centres, (HDCs) are often offering the best price per square metre with less of a focus on connectivity or performance, meaning HDCs need to be big. Even the smallest HDC will likely be over 200 racks and in turn, to be able to fill those racks there needs to be demand. That in turn predicates that they will almost always be close to large metropolitan areas or serving a number of metropolitan areas from a more remote centralised area. 

“For example, NZ is served by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud HDCs from Australia. Chorus EdgeCentres focus more on the connectivity, resilience, and performance benefits of ultra-low latency and the convenience of having EdgeCentres in local areas allowing quick and easy access for customers to install and maintain their equipment. 

“There is a common misconception that HDCs and edge providers compete with each other. The markets that they fulfil are quite different. HDCs work perfectly for mass data storage (think Gmail, Google Photos or OneDrive etc.) where is doesn’t really matter if the data takes seconds or minutes to be retrieved and it’s not the end of the world if it goes missing, compared with ultra-low latency, high availability services (think an offsite backup controller for a wind farm or a remote CCTV renderer).”

How significant a new business opportunity for Chorus is this? 

“From a monetary point of view, it provides a modest return but from a service offering perspective, the benefit to customers is significant.  Chorus’ core business is fibre but by using our existing assets and creating products like EdgeCentre, we allow customers to grow in an efficient and cost-effective manner.  

“Avoiding having to connect to a multitude of 3rd party networks we can reduce complexity by providing the connectivity and performance they require to grow all on the Chorus network. It also allows RSP’s to provide a better experience to their customers by injecting content at the Chorus handover point minimising latency, wait time, or buffering allowing better digital performance for regional NZ.”

What are the implications of this for the rise of ‘edge computing’ – could local universities or factories in a region draw on the EdgeCentre to host applications that require low latency and avoid having to run their own servers?  

“The short answer is yes, global forecasts for robotics, automation, AI, autonomous vehicles, 5G, and the many applications of IoT all rely on a well-connected Edge compute infrastructure.  Chorus EdgeCentre is the first step of this journey and with our fibre network, existing exchange buildings, and expertise we can meet the growing needs of these regional and local organisations.” 

What is the plan for expanding EdgeCentres around the country?  

“We have just completed our fourth site in Tauranga adding to our three existing sites in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. We have one site per year pencilled into our plan, we have already identified approximately 20 sites across the country that would be suitable for locating an EdgeCentre facility. We’re now looking at immediate and future customer demand in these areas to be able to prioritise.”

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

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It's not all about the public cloud - Chorus eyes up market for edge computing services

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