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Distributed Compute and Communications in 5G

Edge cloud computing is transforming 5G wireless networks in terms of extent of distribution and diversity of compute and storage capabilities, enabling management of data from a massive number of wireless devices. However, as cloud and edge computing bring their power to wireless devices, newfound complexities are emerging in these deployments. Today’s cloud and communications systems are not capable of capturing, transmitting, storing, and analyzing the petabytes of data generated by the soon-to-be trillions of sensors operating 24/7.

A “Distributed Compute and Communications Fabric” (DCC-Fabric) will be needed to cope with the expected needs of 5G and future wireless cellular networks. This white paper addresses progress towards a DCC-Fabric by reviewing an evolving cloud computing and mobile communications landscape, as well as delving into social and economic needs and opportunities met by these technologies.

In addition, it also richly discusses DCC-Fabric impacts on emerging applications in Mixed and Extended Reality (M/XR), the Metaverse, factory of the future, Industry 4.0, assisted living, and connected vehicles. Finally, the white paper highlights significant ongoing activities on free open-source software (FOSS) and initiatives from industry and academia.

Key topics include:

  • Introduction
  • Vision and driving forces
  • Evolution, expected benefits, and anticipated technology innovations
  • Challenges and potential directions
  • Tying benefits to applications
  • Early ecosystem, including open-source initiatives by standards organizations, industry, and academia

This white paper was developed by a 5G Americas technical workgroup co-led by VMware and Intel subject matter experts.

Distributed cloud computing could be a cornerstone for the advancement of 5G technology in the new age working world. The size and scope of a 5G network creates complexities along with new technology demands.

Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas

Executive Summary

The telecom industry has a significant advantage in the transition toward distributed cloud computing with a vastly distributed global communication system already in place. Delivering best-in-class application performance could require operators to fully leverage innovations in the areas of heterogeneous compute, storage, and communication capabilities.

The Cloud is transforming, both in terms of the extent of distribution and in the diversity of compute and storage capabilities. On-premises connectivity, analytics, and edge data centers are emerging, and hardware accelerators are becoming integral components of formerly software-only services.

A main driver into the age of virtualization and cloud was the benefit of reducing costs by running workloads on homogeneous, generic, Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware hosted in dedicated, centralized data centers. Edge cloud computing is becoming more important with the surge in data volume that is anticipated from the massive number of devices enabled by both the fifth generation (5G) of mobile communications systems and beyond. Edge cloud computing will also play a critical role in enabling emerging use cases with extreme service requirements in a variety of sectors due to its ability to reduce network traffic and improve user experience. Cloud resources are moving toward the edge of the network – even all the way down to the device so they will meet performance, cost and/or legal and regulatory requirements. Meanwhile, traditional COTS hardware is being augmented by specialized programmable hardware resources to satisfy the strict performance requirements of certain applications and limited energy budgets of remote sites.

Subsequently, cloud computing resources are becoming increasingly heterogeneous, while simultaneously widely distributed across smaller data centers at an increasing number of locations. Cloud deployments as well as communications networks must adapt to the increased complexity and technical challenges that result from this profound transformation. This requires the confluence of compute and communications (which in turn consists of wireless/wireline access and the internet) in distributed constructs that will underpin ubiquitous compute and communications needs of 5G and Beyond systems. Such distributed constructs are introduced as a distributed compute and communications fabric (DCC-Fabric) in this whitepaper. The term ‘5G and beyond’ is used throughout the white paper as they are often references to technology that is anticipated to stretch well beyond just the Fifth Generation.

Today’s cloud and communications systems were designed to deliver services with less stringent communications and compute requirements to people over long distances and that is a one of the key hindrances for a large deployment of this DCC-Fabric. Their power originates in centralized hyperscale data centers transmitting massive amounts of data through a complex network. This needs to be bolstered by highly distributed caches of Content Delivery Network (CDN)-hosted content. Today’s cloud and communications systems are not capable of capturing, transmitting, storing, and analysing the petabytes of data generated by the soon-to-be trillions of sensors operating 24/7. They are also not prepared to deliver the compute needed for real-time AI inferencing required to drive such demands that we anticipate will come from our factory of the future, mixed reality (MR), and Extended Reality (XR) with haptic interactions, connected vehicles, assisted living, or merging of physical and digital worlds with 5G and subsequent generations of systems.

This 5G Americas whitepaper examines the road toward the Distributed Compute and Communications Fabric (DCC-Fabric) by reviewing the cloud computing and mobile communications landscape (and evolutions within) as a technology. Some fundamentals and preliminaries on existing solutions and related technological trends are provided to introduce the definition of the DCC-Fabric with its key anticipated features (see Section 1).

To demonstrate the societal and economic needs and opportunities for the DCC-Fabric, some driving forces are highlighted in Section 2. Further, this paper emphasizes how the evolution of 5G can benefit from the DCC-Fabric enablement and can be realized through anticipated 5G and other technological evolutions, for example, the fusion of compute and communications, the pervasive and fungible edge, and content sharing and networking aspects.

Section 3 is a study on economic, business, and technological challenges for the realization of the DCC-Fabric. This highlights the highly interdisciplinary nature of the DCC-Fabric and details how to overcome such challenges. Within a distributed system that the DCC-Fabric is anticipated to span, management, orchestration, and control could play a pivotal role in achieving the expected autonomy of the DCC-Fabric. Extensive (intelligent) enhancements regarding computing, such as spatial computing and distributed computing, are expected to facilitate some of the key features of the DCC-Fabric. Further directions with respect to solutions in communications networks, including virtualization and specialized hardware, managing increased complexity, automation of distributed applications, sustainability, are detailed. Other key aspects of data and information flow, privacy and security, and energy implications within the context of the DCC-Fabric are presented as well.

Discussion of how emerging applications can benefit from the DCC-Fabric using a number of applications is discussed in Section 4 for example applications like, MR, Extended Reality (XR), metaverse, factory of the future, assisted living, and connected vehicles with an emphasis is on how the DCC-Fabric can be the enabler of immersive experiences for everyone, everywhere in the world, at any time, and for any use case. This scale and reach of the DCC-Fabric will require a large ecosystem with collaborations/partnerships within existing (and emerging) organizations. The whitepaper provides a brief overview of the early DCC-Fabric ecosystem and highlights important ongoing activities on free open-source software (FOSS) and initiatives from industry and academia.

This whitepaper provides deep insights into the expected fusion of compute and communications systems 5G and beyond. The paper introduces existing technologies, best practices, and driving forces to demonstrate the need for a DCC-Fabric and a DCC-Fabric illustration together with its key anticipated features to support the heterogeneous landscape of cloud computing, mobile networks, and services. This whitepaper studies related technologies, provides technological directions. It demonstrates how to apply the DCC-Fabric for future applications along with an overview of an early DCC-Fabric ecosystem.

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