Talking mobile edge computing and open source software with Kontron Canada Inc.

Talking mobile edge computing and open source software with Kontron Canada Inc.

In a world that is increasingly defined by software and all things virtual, organisations across industries are reaping the benefits of migrating critical functionality away from on-premise and into the cloud.

Indeed, IDC predicts global spend on public cloud to hit $160bn this year, an increase of 23.2% on 2017. Offering cost efficiency, scalability and increasing reliability to its beneficiaries, it appears the software and cloud computing tide is gathering irreversible momentum.

However, hardware still has a critical role to play.

IT hardware spending continues to rise – Statista forecasts global spending to reach $1.12trn by 2019, up from the $987bn spent in 2013.

For Kontron Canada Inc., a globally-active subsidiary of the Kontron Group, its mission statement is to design hardware fit for this software-defined world. 

“Our business model has had to change dramatically over the past five years,” comments Benoit Robert, Vice-President of Strategy & Marketing. “Where we used to selling the hardware to a customer who would then sell a complete solution to a service provider, however we now work directly with these service providers to expose them to what we’re doing.

“We show them what integrated hardware and software can do and how this can fit into the new type of virtualised networks they’re trying to build.”

Kontron Canada’s portfolio includes best-of-breed OEM hardware and its SYMKLOUD open infrastructure platforms, built to help clients deploy virtual services using software-defined networking and network function virtualization.

Such clients predominantly operate in three core industries – telecoms, media (video and broadcasting) and cloud. 

Mobile edge – the 5G frontier 

Central to the firm’s shift in business model has been the emergence of mobile edge computing.

The premise of mobile edge is simple – to bring processes closer to the end consumer, thereby reducing congestion on networks and boosting performance of applications.

“This is all about the computing and the support services closer to the cell towers and at the actual cell tower itself,” explains Robert. “Mobile edge computing is about using a lot of new virtualisation software technologies and mixing that with a cloud data centre type of environment.

“As a hardware vendor who is also getting increasingly involved with open source software, edge computing represents a tremendous opportunity for us to provide hardware-software solutions to our customers.”

Mobile edge computing, Robert explains, stands at the frontier of the 5G network.

Promising to deliver unrivalled connection speeds and immense bandwidth capacity, 5G will see an unprecedented number of devices connect to a single network. Providers of such networks will thus be dependent on mobile edge to disperse this demand and ensure optimum experience for end users, and Kontron Canada’s solutions can help them deliver this.

“We’re actually building operating hardware that provisions multi-access edge computing, compatible for devices beyond just mobile, i.e. anything that can connect to IoT,” adds Robert.

Addressing the physical and environmental challenges at the edge is where Kontron’s expertise truly comes to the fore.

“We develop types of hardware that can now sit at the base of the cell tower, a specialised product that fits in that environment where the space is very limited and where the environmental constraints are very tough,” explains Robert.

“It needs to be able to support freezing cold temperatures all the way up to searing heat. Some markets are very hot and you need to develop products that can withstand that kind of punishment.”

Kontron’s hardware also stands up to the shock and vibrations caused by extreme events such as earthquakes and super-strength winds. Today’s software-based world very much relies on equipment that can withstand the physical elements, and Kontron Canada has carved its own niche in provisioning this requirement.

Embracing open source

A crucial facilitator of Kontron Canada’s hardware-software evolution has been open source software.

Integration of OpenStack in particular has proven a differentiator for the company, not least because it can tap into the expertise of a community of experts at an economical price. Open source software also enables flexibility for clients to build networks and data centres in their own way.

However, while the perks of cloud adoption for organisations in industries such as telecoms are well-documented, deterrents such as higher than anticipated costs, start-up delays and being locked into a vendor’s specific approach do exist.  

Kontron’s OpenStack turnkey platform solution, fully integrated with the Canonical distribution of Ubuntu OpenStack, alleviates these concerns.

Robert explains how Kontron’s hardware must keep aligned with updates from Canonical and the OpenStack community: “Canonical have their own releases of their distribution of OpenStack and our software team does all the work behind the scenes to make sure that it will be fully validated and integrated on our hardware.

“This is one of the key advantages of using open source software, especially when considering a community as large as OpenStack. I don't know how many thousands of developers are part of different projects within the OpenStack community, but when there is a new release you're gaining the benefits of all the work done.”

Software updates are tested and validated by partners and customers through SYMLAB, a remote environment designed to reduce the risk attached to adopting any new software releases, developed by Kontron Canada Inc.

Robert also mentions Kontron’s work with Google’s Kubernetes, another open source software solution sold through a separate licensing agreement with Canonical, used for automating deployment, scaling and management of containerised applications.  

“Particularly at the edge of a network, we have seen increasing interest in Containerisation. Containers are integrated in the Kontron SYMKLOUD MS2910 platform in a turnkey manner, providing a modular approach that is designed to fit into the sorts of rack spaces available at the edge,” explains Robert.

Reshoring via partner power

On the operational side, Kontron Canada Inc. is in the midst of reshoring the SYMKLOUD product suite to its homeland. 

Building up an ecosystem of manufacturing and supply chain partners to provision this is the domain of Steve Séguin, Vice President of Operations. A company veteran of more than a decade, Séguin has spent time both in Germany and Canada in various roles.

“As part of our operations strategy over the last few years, we developed an ecosystem of key partners that are integrated to our supply chain, as if they were an extension of Kontron,” he explains.

“The SYMKLOUD product family was produced in Asia, and we're reshoring this so that we can reduce lead times and also increase flexibility.”

Sigmapoint, a “Lean Enterprise” contract manufacturer based in Ontario, is taking on the manufacturing of the SYMKLOUD suite, while Hitek Logistics has been a key transportation and logistics partner, able to quickly ship products anywhere in the world from Kontron warehouses in Canada and Shanghai. The company may expand this network to Morocco, Europe and Southeast Asia if the need arises. 

“Our customers now expect flexibility in our supply chain, short lead times, configure to order, and programs like vendor managed inventory,” Séguin adds. “We must be able to deliver the right product at the right time and at the lowest total cost of ownership.

“These partners contribute directly to meeting these key objectives, and this helps us grow our business.”

Looking ahead

Séguin expects the reshoring effort to be fully operational by the end of June, by which time Kontron Canada Inc. will be primed to deliver its unique set of products and solutions not only across its native territory, but worldwide.

So, what are the priorities for the two executives heading into this post-reshoring future?

“I think we will continue to adapt to our customers footprints and requirements and maintain our very flexible operations so that we can transfer as needed or increase in capacity as needed, and adapt to this evolving market,” Séguin says.

For Robert, deciding which of these evolving trends to pursue will be paramount: “I think one of our biggest issues will be trying to remain focused because there are many new trends or markets that are opening up now, and in most cases, they involve computing hardware of some sort.

“We're monitoring which are the new directions that we would like to be a part of, but when it comes to how things are being built and are being designed, the mindset of everything is software defined.

“Everything's being managed by software – there's so many new opportunities for us, and we're already starting to look at some,” he concludes.

Benoit Robert