Sunlight takes distributed Cloud to the far Edge

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Sunlight takes distributed cloud to the far edge banner

I have been covering the Edge, IoT (Internet of Things) and 5G market for about four years. For much of that time it appeared to be a group of technologies running ahead of the ability, or willingness of businesses to take advantage of them. Alternatively, it could be that the market hype was also running ahead of the technologies’ ability to deliver. Perhaps now the technologies and business imperatives are aligning. 

One area that has particularly exercised me is the whole notion of Edge Cloud. Partly that has been about getting clarity on where the Edge is. The answer, obviously, is dependant on the businesses you talk to, but I was keen to understand how Cloud could be applied at a retail branch, a manufacturing plant or a construction site for example. Let’s just say, I was a bit of a sceptic. 

That brings me on to a very interesting briefing I had recently with Andy Brewerton from SunlightTM. Their offer to the market is a software defined HyperConverged Infrastructure (HCI) stack with a purpose designed, lightweight hypervisor suitable to be deployed on small footprint server and storage devices now being deployed as IoT and Edge servers. 

Julian Chesterfield, SunlightTM founder and CEO, was one of the team that built the first Open-Source hypervisor, Xen (now owned by Citrix), as a spin-out from Cambridge University back in 2003. Sunlight was born out of a collaboration with ARM in 2013 to build a lightweight hypervisor that could virtualise low-power processors. In 2013, this led to the development of the Sunlight hyperconverged infrastructure stack (HCI) – consisting of NexVisor coupled with new software defined storage and networking components, all optimised for the latest advances in storage and networking technology, such as NVMe and 100G networking, with three key design principles: efficiency, performance and simplicity. The objective was to have NexVisor run the most demanding applications in your datacentre, in the cloud and at the edge on existing hardware or new small form factor servers. 

OK, so what about Edge Cloud? I have had some feisty conversations about HCI at the Edge vs the Edge Cloud. Sunlight classifies its solution as an HCI stack run in an Edge Cloud. Given my scepticism about Cloud at the Edge, I asked Andy Brewerton to explain.  

The Sunlight hypervisor is very light, according to Andy, almost like running on bare metal, capable of running VMs and containers for a wide range of applications including AI (Artificial Intelligence) and analytics at the edge. Pair this with modern software defined storage and networking, you have a system that is fast to deploy and easy to manage centrally…an essential element of an edge solution. A central management capability, the Sunlight Infrastructure Manager, and Application Marketplace make it easy to scale deployments across 100s/1000s of geographically dispersed nodes edge locations, like a national fast-food chain for example, with a variety of different application requirements, but no on-site IT operations staff. 

This appears to have all the management facilities and advantages of the Cloud, and with its partnership with Lenovo and Avnet, Sunlight is able to deliver both the software and hardware as a service.  

Maybe that should be the industry definition for a distributed cloud. But how does this “stack” up against the Hyperscalers vision for Edge Clouds. At the moment it would seem that AWS Outposts and Azure Stack are more suitable for larger locations, somewhere between the far edge of retail and manufacturing local branches and factories and their hyperscale data centres, perhaps in regional datacentres and corporate offices. For now, small form factors in remote locations with a need for autonomous, centrally controlled operations provide the best opportunities for Sunlight. 

It’s great to see a British company involved in a genuinely innovative technology development with the potential to drive disruptive change. Sunlight have had “A” round funding amounting to $20 million and is working with some significant partners in the channel. The market it looks to serve is moving from pilots to enterprise-wide deployments, So, we will keep an eye on progress and hope to see them develop and grow quickly.