VMware, Vapor IO launch Open Grid Alliance to rebuild the internet

smart grid
"The need for internet in more places is here and now," said Vapor IO CEO Cole Crawford. (Pixabay)

A half-dozen cloud and edge players led by VMware and Vapor IO launched the Open Grid Alliance, aiming to rearchitect the internet by weaving disparate cloud and telecom networks into a seamless fabric akin to the power grid.

Though network activity is increasingly shifting to the edge, Vapor IO CEO Cole Crawford told Fierce traffic handoffs in the U.S. still only occur in a handful of centralized locations. He noted that often means traffic has to travel hundreds of miles to get to an interconnect point.

“If we’re ever going to see optimized, low-latency network handoff” for use cases like factory automation or autonomous robotics, “at some point the physics come into play, and that’s why this is so important…the need for internet in more places is here and now,” he said.

The idea is to develop a new, software-defined network system which supports multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, near-prem and on-prem services, with connectivity and compute resources offered on-demand when and where needed, the group said in a press release. This will create a layer of abstraction so developers can simply ask for the resources they need to meet an application’s requirements rather than worrying about the underlying infrastructure, Crawford added.

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VMware VP of Advanced Technologies Kaniz Mahdi told Fierce the alliance “will not be in the business of writing specs,” but rather will focus on producing guidelines and key principles around what an open network grid “should and should not be.” Development of reference architectures is also part of the plan.

Crawford said the first news from the group will be focused on the convergence between wireless and wireline networks and is due out in the next 30 days.

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Open arms

Mahdi and Crawford both pointed to openness as a key part of the group’s approach, with the former stating “without it being open, there is no grid.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean open source technology will be a requirement. Crawford said the goal is more “open cooperation by design.”

Rather than limiting the interfaces that can be used in a reference architecture, Crawford said the aim is to encourage companies “to start putting more intelligence, more automation, more abstraction into the thing that already exists that’s commercially available.”

“So it’s open in the form of ‘we all have solutions here, let’s figure out the control plane, data plane that solves for the vast number of customers that need grid-like functionality’” spanning multiple vendors, he said.

Thus far, Mahdi said she has been surprised by the lack of pushback to the idea of overhauling the internet’s architecture.

“I’ve been doing this many years…This was the first time that I did not sense any headwinds. Not at all,” she said. “Every conversation that I had on the grid was all very positive, and they all saw a need for something like this. They might not call it the grid, but everyone sees the need.”

She added “already we are getting calls” from interested hyperscale and telco companies.

Other founding members of the alliance include Dell Technologies, MobiledgeX, DriveNets and PacketFabric. While the group is looking to grow and diversify its membership, Mahdi noted the focus will be on adding participants who bring new capabilities and can help the alliance make progress toward its goals.