Edge Executive Interview – Julian Chesterfield, Sunlight
In the lead up to Edge Computing World, we’re taking some time to speak to talk to the executive leadership of the Finalists for the Edge Start of the Year 2021. Today we’re talking to Julian Chesterfield, founder and CEO at Sunlight
Tell us a bit about yourself – what led you to get involved in the edge computing market and Sunlight?
JC: I’m Sunlight’s founder and CEO, Julian Chesterfield. I’ve been working in the cloud and virtualisation industry for over 15 years and was involved in writing a technology called Xen, which became the foundation of the public cloud back in 2007 when it was adopted by Amazon and most of the emerging public cloud infrastructure providers of the day.
I got involved with edge computing by chance. I was working on a project with Arm Technologies and Sunlight’s founding team to build a lightweight virtualisation platform for a “server of the future” architecture. We focused our attention on minimising the server footprint and reducing the overhead of the virtualization layer to run efficiently on the resource-constrained, embedded Arm server platform. We’d created a very optimised hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) platform that can execute fully virtualised workloads with bare metal performance, at a fraction of the footprint of the HCI products on the market. We knew that we’d developed something that could solve the challenges with trying to deploy traditional HCI solutions on edge infrastructure, so we launched Sunlight.io as a commercially funded startup.
We quickly learned from the market that enterprises are increasingly looking to move their compute capability to the edge in order to support applications like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Video Analytics that need to analyse vast amounts of data for real-time decision making. This is a fast growing area where edge applications need to operate with a tiny footprint, high performance and central manageability.
Sunlight has since brought a suite of “Edge as a Service” products to the market – the Sunlight Infrastructure Manager (SIM) and Markeplace – that enable enterprises to deploy and manage applications, from the edge to the core, across an unlimited number of locations. All managed centrally from a single dashboard user interface (single pane of glass).
What is it you & your company are uniquely bringing to the edge market?
JC: Designed to perform anywhere. Sunlight makes deploying and managing applications, from edge to cloud, simple.
COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation and specifically edge computing projects for many industries. One of the biggest challenges in this ‘new world’ is automating deployment of applications and their supporting infrastructure. CIOs are no longer managing 2-3 data center or cloud locations but hundreds or thousands of Edge locations with a small amount of compute power at each. To further add to the complexity, many of the key Edge use cases, such as quick service retail chains, don’t have the technical skillsets at each site to configure hardware or deploy applications.
Sunlight has solved the scale and manageability challenges associated with deploying infrastructure at the edge with the Sunlight Infrastructure Manager (SIM) and Marketplace.
The SIM is a centralised dashboard and API providing a ‘single pane of glass’ onto your entire Edge-to-cloud infrastructure. It allows enterprises to securely deploy and manage Sunlight clusters across multiple distributed edge locations, the cloud and data center from a single place. It operates in a disconnected mode when subject to intermittent network connections, the disaster recovery portal can be used to migrate workloads from one cluster to another, admins can set role-based access control and it’s also possible to centrally store workload backups.
The integrated application Marketplace makes it simple and intuitive to manage applications across any scale of infrastructure. It contains ‘recipes’ for deploying many common applications “out-of-the-box”, and other applications can be added using an Ansible-based framework. Both virtual machine-based and cloud-native applications are supported. This significantly cuts the time and cost of deploying and updating applications across a large Edge infrastructure.
Tell us more about the company, what’s your advantages compared to others on the market, who is involved, and what are your major milestones so far?
JC: Our advantage is that we were built for small, embedded Arm processors and then have scaled up to the cloud. Traditional HCI platforms were built for the data center, where space, power and network resources are plentiful and have had to scale it down for the edge – but it doesn’t fit. Sunlight was built for resource-constrained environments and this gives us a tremendous advantage over the data center solutions.
In addition, the Sunlight Infrastructure Manager (SIM) and Marketplace make it simple to deploy and manage infrastructure and applications in highly distributed Edge environments as well as in the Cloud – enabling true Edge ‘Software as a Service’ models.
Sunlight’s transparent pricing model is structured around the economics of the edge. The Sunlight NexVisor HCI and SIM provide a complete software-defined Edge computing stack at a fifth of the cost of trying to deploy the leading data center hyperconverged solution at the edge. It is available as a bundle from $120 per month per Edge node and can be deployed on a single node or in a Highly Available configuration on just two nodes. Full pricing for the Sunlight NexVisor and SIM are available on the Sunlight website.
Since launching our GA product to market in 2019, we have hit some fantastic early milestones. We closed a $6M Series A funding round in December 2020 with two supportive investors – OpenOcean and Robert Bosch Venture Capital. More recently, we launched the Sunlight SIM and Marketplace – enabling true Edge ‘Software as a Service’ models. Other exciting milestones include the deployment of some large-scale commercial edge projects that have led to very compelling validation of the sunlight solution – both across a variety of industry verticals, (including pharmaceutical, alternative energy, and retail and military) and applications (supporting tasks such as Video Analytics, AI and central data aggregation). We have also tested Sunlight to run on some of the most rugged hardware devices on the market – including Lenovo SE350, HPE Edgeline, LanternEdge, Altos Acer and Supermicro.
How do you see the edge market developing over the next few years?
JC: This is an exciting time to be a technology provider in the edge ecosystem. Enterprises are just learning about how to adopt and deploy new solutions to support their requirements. Over the next few years we will see more established processes and techniques for deploying applications and services at the edge. Sunlight will lead the way.
There will be an increased focus on the intersection between the open source ecosystem, the adoption of standards, and the supply of commercial-grade solutions.
In the hardware space, we will see an increasing number of interesting and unusual hardware platforms that have been built for these edge applications. These will use commodity components that will deliver economies of scale and affordable solutions as the infrastructure grows.
Furthermore, we will see the pricing methodology and affordability of edge solutions begin to mature away from the traditional core data center technology approach to a cost-appropriate edge model.
What are the main trends you see about integrating edge computing into different verticals?
JC: There are some key trends associated with the integration of edge computing, regardless of industry vertical. Oil and gas, agriculture, retail, healthcare and manufacturing are operating under different environmental conditions but the key trend is that they’re no longer operating solely in a comfortable data center environment with technical people on hand and a consistent, redundant power and network supply.
Some of the main edge computing trends we will see are:
- Robust and ruggardized infrastructure will become a requirement for the deployment of compute in extreme environments, without the luxury of an airconditioned data center.
- Edge environments will be able to operate without localised IT support and expertise.
- Edge infrastructure will operate autonomously. If a 5G uplink goes down, the edge infrastructure will continue to operate independently of the central cloud.
- The deployment of infrastructure at scale will be simplified. We will see more “drop and forget” components that can be remotely managed and supported.
- There will be a focus on delivering Edge applications “as-a-Service”.
In addition, enterprises are increasingly setting targets around their environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). Edge computing is one way that organisations can reduce their carbon footprint and drive efficiency across their infrastructure. Edge compute nodes, based on embedded and mobile device processor architectures, are more efficient and can operate with conventional air cooling, without the need for expensive air-conditioned data center environments. They also consume a much smaller physical footprint. The bigger the physical footprint of a server, the higher the cost of raw materials, which has a corresponding embodied energy cost associated with its manufacturing.