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Zededa Wants To Make Edge Computing Open And Future-Proof — With Or Without It

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If edge computing and the IoT applications it supports are to reach their true potential, they will need a system that doesn’t lock organizations in with specific vendors and one that allows applications, both old and new, to seamlessly co-exist with each other.

That’s the drum Jason Shepherd has been beating since his days at Dell Technologies and is the primary mission of his current employer, Zededa, which last week launched its software for remotely managing and deploying applications in servers and devices at what it calls the “distributed edge” — areas outside traditional data centers that are closer to where the compute actually happens in IoT.

[Related: Nubix Raises $2.7M To Bring Containers To Tiny IoT Devices]

The San Jose, Calif.-based startup’s “open orchestration solution for the distributed edge” aims to give organizations flexibility with the software they use in edge computing environments, whether they want to run new applications in Docker and Kubernetes containers or old ones in virtual machines.

This approach can be beneficial to industries that need to continue running older applications while also investing in new software, according to Shepherd. The surveillance market, for instance, still relies heavily on Windows-based legacy applications while newer applications for things like facial recognition and other AI use cases are more likely to use Linux-based container technology.

“You’ve got this transition from the Windows world to containerized Linux solutions,” said Shepherd, vice president of ecosystem at Zededa. “And because our solution is the only one optimized for the distributed edge that does both virtual machines and containers, It gives people in those types of channels the ability to run what they’ve got today, and then evolve into more modern, cloud-native development along the way.”

The other benefit of Zededa’s edge computing orchestration solution is that it uses the Linux Foundation’s open-source EVE-OS operating system as the base, which Shepherd said prevents customers from being locked in with any one vendor, Zededa included. (Zededa actually contributed the initial code for EVE-OS, but its open-source community has since grown to about 60 contributors.)

By making open-source software the foundation of its solution, Zededa wants to ensure that customers don’t need to re-architecture their entire software stack if the startup were to ever go under. That means Zededa has an impetus to provide a significant value proposition for customers to use its orchestration software, according to Shepherd.

“I’ve always said, in this market, you have to do open foundations to float all boats and then make sure your boat’s really fast. That’s how it works,” Shepherd said.

The value proposition boils down to this: The startup has developed a cloud-based service that uses open APIs from EVE-OS to manage the edge computer hardware and deploy applications — including those from an app marketplace — while providing important network and security capabilities. And it would take organizations a lot of work to build all of those capabilities from the ground up.

“We have a lot of customers coming to us because even though they could build their own backend, it’s not worth it to them, but they know that it’s a ‘warm fuzzy’ that they can,” Shepherd said. “We’ve seen competitors that have kind of disappeared, and when that happens, you have to drive a truck out to the field and replace it. That’s expensive, so we are an insurance policy against lock-in in that sense.”

EVE-OS comes with its own benefits: The Linux-based operating system is very lightweight, allowing it to run on a range of edge of gateways, hubs and routers, plus more traditional servers. It has a hypervisor embedded within for virtual machines, and it can support different hypervisor types, from KVM and Xen, and even real-time hypervisors, like ACRN. It supports Kubernetes and Docker containers. And it operates on a zero-trust security model by relying on the root of trust within hardware.

“In a way, I think of EVE as a little bit like VMware’s ESX and NSX combined,” Shepherd said. “So we’ve got networking functions. We have distributed firewall capabilities within that, where you can say, ‘this app can only talk to that app, this app can only talk to that cloud.’ It’s a bare metal foundation that abstracts applications from hardware.”

As for Zededa’s channel strategy, Shepherd said the startup is providing a white-label option for OEMs and systems integrators so that they can bundle Zededa’s cloud service and EVE-OS with hardware to streamline deployments. Partners can also curate the app marketplace within the cloud service to target certain verticals, like oil and gas or video surveillance. The cloud service is subscription-based and is provided to partners at a discount so that they can earn margin on the resale.

Among Zededa’s early OEM supporters include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Advantech and Supermicro. On the software side, the startup has received buy-in from Microsoft, PTC, Google, SAS and Rancher. The startup has also received support from global systems integrator Accenture.

One channel partner that has become an early adopter is MBX Systems, a Libertyville, Ill.-based systems integrator that serves a large range of industries, from content delivery networks and high-performance computing to IP video surveillance and oil and gas.

Tom Larson, director of safety and security at MBX Systems, said his company plans to bundle Zededa’s cloud service and EVE-OS with hardware for customers in the video surveillance software space. He added that Zededa is a good fit for industries like that because the cloud service experience is similar to the iPhone: you can install apps without needing to understand the underlying systems.

“What the integrator thinks they do is they’re running two applications on the box, much like using your iPhone,” Larson said. “What you don’t know is what’s under the water: You’re actually running virtualization. You just don’t know it.”

Beyond the ease-of-use, Larson said Zededa’s remote management capabilities are also a big deal because of how expensive it can be to do “truck rolls,” which is when a company needs to send out a technician to physically access and service the hardware. Before Zededa, he added, MBX Systems’ bare metal servers were not capable of being rebooted remotely.

“We can cut that down greatly because you can get into the box via the cloud, you can see what’s going on, you can remotely restart the box, you can remotely restart the [virtual machine] and potentially fix the issue without ever leaving the office,” he said.

While MBX Systems is initially focused on enabling legacy applications for surveillance customers, Larson said Zededa will make it much easier for customers to adopt new applications through the cloud service’s app marketplace.

“What we’re probably going to see first is legacy video surveillance, legacy access control, and then we’re going to see a containerized Kubernetes AI sandbox” for adding new capabilities, he said.

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