Microsoft to enable new 5G edge computing scenarios with Azure Edge Zones, now in private preview

Microsoft and AWS are racing to provide tighter ties between 5G and cloud services. Microsoft's strategy for this involves Azure Edge Zones and an expanding number of telco and carrier partners.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Both Amazon Web Services and Microsoft see big potential in connecting edge devices using 5G wireless technology to the cloud. Last year, AWS took the wraps off its Wavelength platform for ultra-low latency apps for 5G devices. On March 31, Microsoft's Azure team is doing something similar with its Azure Edge Zones.

Azure Edge Zones is all about enabling emerging IoT, edge, and 5G scenarios via a managed Azure service. Microsoft already was pioneering some of this work with AT&T and showed off the Azure Edge Zone concept (without using that exact name) at its Ignite conference last fall. The core concept is to connect 5G applications that require low latency to cloud compute, networking, and storage with fewer interim hops.

Today, Microsoft is delivering private previews of Azure Edge Zones and Azure Private Edge Zones, which officials say are meant to provide a consistent set of development, management, and other cloud services for emerging edge-computing scenarios. Officials said public previews will likely be available this summer.

Some Edge Zones will live within the network; others with carriers and operators; and some in customers' own sites to improve scenarios like automation, supply chain, retail, robotics, gaming, and more, said Yousef Khalidi, Corporate Vice President of Product Management for Azure Networking. What makes Edge Zones different from the way Microsoft currently enables edge computing is that they will be delivered as a Microsoft-managed service, he said.

"Edge Zone is a managed service," Khalidi said. "We provide it instead of you having to set this up yourself. With Private Zones, a box is shipped to the customer. And we manage all this from the cloud."

(I asked if Microsoft also would be incorporating Azure Edge Zones into its Azure Arc multi-cloud management infrastructure. Officials said they had nothing to share about that at this time.)

With Edge Zones, Microsoft isn't only partnering with A&T. It has created a version of Edge Zones called Edge Zones with Carriers which connects Azure services directly to 5G networks in individual carriers' data centers. Among its additional partners: NTT Communications, Rogers, SK telecom, Telstra, Vodafone, Proximus, and Etisalat. Microsoft says to expect its telecom and carrier partners to bring Edge Zones to mutual customers later this year.

Microsoft is planning to deliver standalone Azure Edge Zones in more than ten cities in the next 12 months, starting with Los Angeles, Miami, and New York this summer. Last year, AWS announced AWS Local Zones, designed to bring certain AWS services to a particular geographic area, starting with Los Angeles. AWS' main partner with its 5G-cloud connectivity strategy is Verizon.

Azure Private Edge Zones is another flavor of Microsoft's new offering. Private Edge Zones is a combination of a private 5G LTE network combined with Azure Stack Edge (the product formerly known as Azure Databox Edge). Private Edge Zones can be combined with Microsoft IoT technologies, like Azure IoT Central and Azure Sphere. 

The Azure Edge Zones documentation on the Microsoft Docs site has a lot more details on how this is all meant to work.

Last week, Microsoft announced its acquisition of Affirmed Networks, a provider of cloud-based mobile network solutions, which also will play a part in its cloud-to-5G edge device story. 

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