The other day I was quietly driving along a country road near where I live and happened across an irate looking driver, parked up at the edge of the road. Much of his irate-ness was, I assume, caused by the fact that he was driving a late model, European sports car which had unceremoniously broken down rendering him hot (it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere), immobile and in possession of a very expensive hunk of steel and alloy.
As I left the scene, with him not wanting outside help, I got thinking about how being broken down on the side of a road with a very expensive vehicle is analogous to having some fantastic content on the internet that, alas, can’t get to those who want to view it. It looks good, but is pretty much useless to everyone.
This is just the problem that Qwilt wants to help with. The company offers an edge cloud platform and caching solutions that are all utilized by internet service providers to address the dramatic growth of streaming media on their networks (Netflix, anyone) -- and, to the point, to offer a low latency, high scale infrastructure to support those applications.
Qwilt’s platform runs on standard commodity compute and storage infrastructure and is deployed close to wherever the content consumers are. This creates a distributed network (Qwilt calls it an “Edge Cloud”) that supports open caching, 4K live streaming and a bunch of mission critical, bandwidth intensive and highly demanded use cases.
Qwilt was founded in 2010 by people with extensive networking experience -- in particular alums from Cisco and Juniper. The company is backed by Accel Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Cisco Ventures, Disrupt-ive, Innovation Endeavors, Marker and Redpoint Ventures.
Qwilt is using some research from a broad range of content creators (calling out names such as Oculus, Nokia Bell Labs and Valve) that has concluded that low network latency is essential for the performance of augmented reality, virtual reality, 360-degree video and compute intensive applications such as self-driving cars. It seems strange to me that Qwilt needed someone to justify that network latency is an issue for these use cases -- it seems like a fairly self-evident fact to me but, as is often the case, third-party validation holds a certain cachet.
Anyway, aligned with this research, Qwilt is unveiling its “Open Edge Cloud,” a solution that it suggests is a new model of content and application delivery to both consumers and enterprise workers, which addresses requirements for both low latency and massive scale. The service provider Edge Cloud includes a suite of open APIs that enable rapid content delivery resource allocation while leveraging the reach and scale in the service provider last-mile network. According to Qwilt, five essential attributes of the service provider Edge Cloud include:
- Based on common compute and storage: The Edge Cloud is a layer of common off the shelf (COTS) compute and storage resources enabling content delivery from the closest possible location to consumers. Edge Cloud applications run on this common compute layer in software that is cloud managed, elastic and resilient.
- Massively distributed and shared: The Edge Cloud is a massively distributed infrastructure that enables apps and content to be streamed from a distance of a few miles to a few feet from consumers, thus reducing latency and improving response times for future applications.
- Accessible to publishers via an open API: Publishers and CDNs can make use of the Edge Cloud unlocking new content delivery capabilities that only in-network distance can deliver. To capture this opportunity an open and comprehensive set of interfaces is required.
- Matches resources to application and content delivery demands: Some applications like video (especially 4K) require significant bandwidth and storage. Others, like gaming and VR, require split second response time for in-game actions, but little storage. The Edge Cloud has the intelligence and agility to understand application needs and assign resources accordingly.
- Extends, augments and complements centralized cloud: The centralized cloud has a vital role. The Edge Cloud creates a new layer that can work alongside the centralized cloud and create a superior application and content delivery infrastructure.
There is no question that moving content towards the edge is one key driver to ensuring lower latency and, hence, better experiences for end users/consumers. Qwilt is, of course, in a busy space -- content delivery networks, network optimization vendors and purveyors of new, more distributed ways of building applications are all offering similar value. It’s always hard for these newer vendors to gain traction in the fact of what is some pretty intense competition and, in this respect, Qwilt has a challenge in front of it.
That said, there is certainly something in what Qwilt is promising and, much like that poor hapless soul who may well be standing all hot and bothered next to his very expensive piece of European automobile engineering, a solution that actually delivers the goods is attractive to those who need it.
Time will tell whether Qwilt is the sector’s Ford Edsel, or if they’re creating a Tesla. Watch this space.
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