Data-hungry technology trends such as Internet of Things, smart vehicles, drone deliveries, smart cities and Industry 4.0 are increasing the demand for fast, always-on edge computing.
One solution that has emerged to bring the network closer to the applications generating and end users consuming that data is the micro data centre.
The micro data centre sector is a new space filled with more noise than signal.
If you go hunting for a micro data centre for your business you’ll find everything from suitcase-sized computing stacks that replace a server closet to modular enclosures delivered by semi-trucks to larger units that reside at the foot of cell towers to dedicated edge data centres with standardised designs that can spring up wherever there’s demand and where real estate or access rights are available, including easements, rooftops and industrial sites.
Several of the start-ups here started out in adjacent spaces, such as IaaS or colocation services and have only recently added micro data centres to their portfolios.
Now, with the arrival of 5G, the demand for edge data centres could be ready to explode, with several of the start-ups below intending to drop micro data centres at the base of every 5G tower they can gain access to.
Year founded: 2014
Headquarters: Haarlem, Netherlands
CEO: Rolf Brink, who is also currently serving as advanced-cooling solutions project lead for immersion for the Open Compute Project Foundation
What they do: Provide liquid-cooled immersed computing solutions. Based on the concept of total liquid cooling, which immerses electronic equipment in a dielectric liquid, Asperitas’ liquid-cooled computing gear is able to recapture all of the heat generated and reuse it. Liquid-cooled immersion technology can enable micro data centres with a smaller footprint.
Competitors include: Cloud9 Edge Technologies, CoolIT Systems, Mentor and Submer
Customers include: LOEWE
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Asperitas has won grants including one from Shell Ventures and one from the EU Executive Agency for small and medium enterprises.
Year founded: 2018
Funding: Not disclosed
Headquarters: Colorado Springs, Colo.
CEO: Bill Miller, who previously co-founder and CTO of Storage Networks
What they do: Provide hyper-converged infrastructure, micro cloud, and micro data centre services. Axellio’s MicroDataCenter Platform uses ultra-high-performance components like GPUs and NVMe storage devices. The platform includes dual Intel dual-CPU server modules and dual-ported NVMe SSDs integrated with NVMe on PCIe fabric. Current versions feature up to 88 cores, 2TB of RAM and 1PB of flash storage in a 2U form factor. It is built around an edge platform for streaming big data called FabricXpress developed by X-IO Storage whose management team founded Axiello.
Competitors include: Stulz and Zellabox
Customers include: U.S. Air Force
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Axellio has a strong leadership team, including Miller, who was a co-founder as well as CTO of Storage Networks, and CRO Mark Zeller, who has sales experience at Varonis, EMC and IBM. The start-up's contract with the USAF is to develop an ultra-portable edge-computing platform for military applications.
Year founded: 2011
Funding: $170 million
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas
CEO: Chris Crosby, former senior vice president of Digital Realty Trust
What they do: Provide cloud, SaaS, colocation and edge data centre modules. Compass entered the edge data-centre market in 2018 through its acquisitions of two start-ups: EdgePoint Systems, which developed edge data centres; and BitBox USA, which provided monitoring and control software for edge facilities.
Compass EdgePoint data centres have a 12-rack capacity and are housed in a hardened shell. They can be located in constrained environments such as easements and rooftops, and they can be remotely monitored and controlled through BitBox software.
Competitors include: Attom, Cisco, DartPoints, EdgeMicro and ScaleMatrix
Customers include: American Electric Power, CenturyLink, Iron Mountain, TierPoint and Windstream Communications
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: In addition to its current funding, Compass’s investors have recently committed to a $3-billion build-out that will feature data centres in mid-tier markets, hyper-scale data centres and a growing footprint of edge data centres.
The start-up already has a successful data centre and colocation business, with such customers as CenturyLink and TierPoint. The acquisitions of EdgePoint Systems and BitBox USA are a natural fit with its existing footprint of data centres in mid-tier cities with thriving tech sectors, such as Columbus, Dallas and Northern Virginia.
Year founded: 2012
Funding: $5.5 million
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas
CEO: Hugh Carspecken, who was formerly Director of Master Network Integration Solutions for Fujitsu
What they do: DartPoints builds micro and edge data centres that are designed to function together as one logical data centre. DartPoints’ proprietary Service Orchestration Platform not only joins micro data centres into one virtual, holistic data centre, but it also grants end users access to a range of edge services, from edge collocation to connectivity to bare-metal solutions. The platform is designed to scale on demand, and it integrates with existing business processes to unify operations from the field to the back office.
Competitors include: Attom, Cisco, Compass Datacenters, EdgeMicro, ScaleMatrix
Customers include: None named.
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: DataPoints entered the micro data centre space early and has gained industry traction by inking technology and channel deals with the likes of ADVA and Schneider Electric.
DataPoints and Schneider Electric deliver an edge colocation services. The two companies are building out micro data centres that are built in 100kW chunks in order to closely match capacity with actual demand. In April 2019, DataPoints announced a nationwide roll-out plan and said it had achieved positive cash flow.
Year founded: 2009
Funding: $122 million
Headquarters: Herndon, Va.
CEO: Randy Brouckman, previously CEO of Wade Capital Group and COO of Iridium
What they do: Provide data centre and connectivity solutions for the edge. EdgeConneX has deployed more than 40 edge data centres throughout North America, South America and Europe. These data centres are purpose-built for service-provider customers to deliver content, provide cloud services and offer SaaS in locations that are underserved by traditional data centre giants.
It also offers what it calls “MicroEdge” data centres. These enable enterprises to roll out emerging technologies like IoT, smart city and autonomous-vehicle services in close proximity to end users. The start-up’s EdgeOS software is a self-service management application that gives customers visibility into data centre operations across all EdgeConneX facilities.
Competitors include: 365 Data Centers, Compass Data Centers, Cologix, DartPoints, EdgeMicro and MetroEdge
Customers include: Hurricane Electric and Seaborn Networks
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: EdgeConneX is a pioneer in this very new data centre sub-sector. It started out as an IaaS provider and has evolved into a data centre provider that offers hyper-scale, edge and micro data centres.
EdgeConneX is backed by $122 million in funding, has an edge footprint of more than 40 data centres, and it has aggressively built out channel partnerships with the likes of Rackspace, Comcast Business, NetFoundry and Tata Communications.
Year founded: 2017
Funding: $6 million in seed funding from undisclosed investors
Headquarters: Golden, Colo.
CEO: Mike Hagan, former VP of colocation and cloud for Schneider Electric
What they do: Provide micro data centre technologies and services. EdgeMicro’s micro data centres – “Edge Colocation Data Centres” – are complete modular data centres that include an IT computing stack, redundant cooling, fire suppression, biometric security and CCTV surveillance that can be deployed at any fibre aggregation site.
EdgeMicro also offers colocation services from its edge data centres, the first of which was built in Denver. EdgeMicro has initiated the rollout of 30 more micro data centres, which are planned for tier-two sites across the U.S., including Buffalo, Cleveland, El Paso, New Orleans and Kansas City.
Competitors include: 365 Data Centers, Compass Data Centers, Cologix, EdgeConneX and MetroEdge.
Customers include: None announced.
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: After successfully launching its first micro data centre in Denver, the start-up recently announced that it has three more micro data centres up and running in new regional markets, Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C. and Tampa, Fla.
Versus competitors who are targeting any and all underserved areas and harsh environments, EdgeMicro has a focused roll-out planned. It intends to deploy its pre-built micro data centres at cell tower sites across the country. EdgeMicro has set a goal of building 500 facilities over the next three years.
EdgeMicro has a strong leadership team, starting at the top with CEO Mike Hagan who launched Schneider Electric’s colocation and cloud division, building it to a $500 million division. Other senior leaders gained management and industry experience at Schneider Electric, CBRE, CenturyLink and AT&T.
Year founded: 2019
Headquarters: Chicago, Ill.
CEO: Craig Huffman and Vance Kenney co-founded the company and are running it as managing partners. Huffman was a co-founder and principal of Ascendance Partners, while Kenney founded 504 Redevelopment.
What they do: Provide cloud, colocation, data centre and micro data centre solutions. MetroEdge’s micro data centre product is a modular unit that can contain eight to 25 cabinets in a 300-1,000 square-foot steel-mesh enclosure. These units can be deployed in office buildings, college campuses and at industrial sites. Its first micro data centre is located in the south side of Chicago in Englewood. MetroEdge’s next micro data centre is planned for Gary, Ind.
The start-up intends to use software-defined networking to connect micro data centres to its NOC and link them together into a nationwide grid.
Competitors include: DartPoints, EdgeConneX, EdgeMicro, Vapor IO
Customers include: Liberty Advisor Group, CyBeta and DragonChain
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: While MetroEdge has only just arrived on the micro data centre scene, the start-up has already named three customers. In March 2019, MetroEdge entered into a partnership with ClearSky Data to deliver storage-as-a-service from micro data centres. The service will provide primary storage, back-up and DR as a unified service.
MetroEdge also has a unique business model, targeting underserved urban areas. As a Minority Business Enterprise, MetroEdge will prioritise areas that have been designated for Opportunity Track investments as defined by the 2017 Tax Act.
Year founded: 2011
Headquarters: San Diego, Calif.
CEO: Chris Orlando, who previously co-founded Dynamic Density Control (DCC), which develops high-density data centre enclosures
What they do: Provide colocation, cloud, and micro data centre products and services. In March 2019, ScaleMatrix acquired the start-up Instant Data Centers (terms not disclosed) to bolster their micro data centre offerings.
CEO Chris Orlando’s still has a stake in the other company he co-founded, DCC, which provides what it calls “Dynamic Density Control” cabinets that is well suited for micro data centres. DDC cabinets support up to 52 kW of electrical power, feature a ruggedised enclosure with biometric security and are designed to reduce cooling costs.
With the addition of Instant Data Centers, ScaleMatrix has broadened its edge portfolio and is able to target edge use cases where traditional data centre resources are scares. ScaleMatrix also provides HPC, GPU-as-a-Service and private cloud services.
Competitors include: Attom, Cirrity, Compass Datacenters, EdgeConneX and EdgeMicro
Customers include: Dell, Stone Brewing, ESET, and Fairfield Residential
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: ScaleMatrix already had a foot in the micro data centre world with its DCC-powered colocation offerings. Now, with the acquisition of micro data centre provider Instant Data Centres, ScaleMatrix is able to drop a micro data centre into pretty much any environment, including remote and harsh environments.
ScaleMatrix also received a big boost for its cloud business when Dell announced that it would stop offering VMware vCloud IaaS services and would offload customers to ScaleMatrix, Joyent and ZeroLag.
Year founded: 2015
Funding: Vapor IO has raised three rounds of funding, the most recent being a Series C that closed in September 2018. Terms of the funding have not been disclosed.
Headquarters: Austin, Texas
CEO: Cole Crawford, who is also on the LF Edge Governing Board of the Linux Foundation
What they do: Vapor IO’s Kinetic Edge infrastructure platform uses software-defined networking and high-speed connectivity to combine multiple micro data centre facilities into a single logical data centre. For developers and operators, it presents a geographically dispersed collection of micro data centres as a single virtual facility with multiple availability zones.
This architecture enables customers in target markets (carriers, cloud providers, CDNs, and web-scale enterprises) to place IT equipment (compute, storage, and networking) in Kinetic Edge locations that are one hop away from the existing 4G LTE and emerging 5G wireless networks.
Vapor IO has also developed its own edge enclosure hardware, Vapor Chamber, as well pre-built data centre modules, Vapor Edge Module.
Competitors include: Compass Datacenters, DartPoints, EdgeConneX, and EdgeMicro
Customers include: None announced
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Vapor IO has a smart roll-out plan, which focuses on locating edge data centres at cell towers. The start-up has recently added to its senior leadership team, including Jacques Greyling, former SVP of global infrastructure for Rackspace and who will serve as COO for Vapor IO.
While Vapor IO has yet to announce customers, they have touted partnerships including with drone company Hangar to develop Robotics-as-a-System services; cloud provider Packet to deliver 5G-as-a-Service; and cell-tower operators Crown Castle to deploy a distributed network of micro data centres at the base of telecom towers.
Year founded: 2010
Headquarters: Osborne Park, Australia
CEO: Angie Keeler, who was an injury-management advisor before getting into the data centre market
What they do: Provide micro data centres. Zellabox micro data centres house servers, storage and networking equipment in a secure enclosure with energy-efficient cooling systems. Zellabox micro data centres are designed to run autonomously and be centrally controlled through PowerIQ’s DCIM monitoring software, which is included with the boxes.
The Zellabox DCIM (Data Centre Infrastructure Management) software monitors power and environmental conditions within the Zellabox. It helps mitigate the risk of downtime by offering real-time alerts, while also helping to conserve energy by allowing the Zellabox owner to charge back for true energy costs and pursue energy-efficiency initiatives.
Zellaboxes are designed to withstand severe environments, engineered to be resilient against extreme heat and humidity, fire and, in certain configurations, even the collapse of a building.
Zellaboxes include proprietary Edge Intelligence software that provides access to edge data stores so data can be analysed in near real-time close to the source of the devices generating the data.
Competitors include: Axellio and Stulz
Customers include: BHP, Shadowsafe and Petroecuador
Why they’re a hot start-up to watch: Zellabox started out with a vision of developing a modular replacement to dedicated server rooms. Since its founding, the start-up has expanded into the United Kingdom and landed several named customers, including Petroecuador and Shadowsafe. Zellabox is also targeting military applications with a specialised micro data centre called Hero.
(Jeff Vance is the founder of Startup50.com, a site that discovers, analyzes, and ranks tech start-ups. Follow him on Twitter, @JWVance, or connect with him on LinkedIn.)
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