IBM, Bharti Airtel partner on edge cloud offerings in India

The collaboration between IBM and Indian telecom Bharti Airtel will complement 5G, offer new opportunities to use edge compute, and support data sovereignty.

Edge computing

IBM will work with telecom provider Bharti Airtel to offer edge cloud services to organizations in India, providing a new option for companies looking to leverage edge services and keep their data in-country.

The partnership, announced Wednesday, will extend across 20 of India’s largest cities, with a grand total of 120 network data centers included in the system. The idea is to offer business customers the ability to use cutting-edge new capabilities—for example, automated inspection for manufacturing, or high-level analytics for healthcare providers—without using global cloud services that might take data out of the country or having to implement that type of system completely in-house.

The system is architected such that IBM’s edge-compute capabilities are housed in the  data centers, allowing them to be offered to any business that can connect to Airtel’s network. Additionally, a private networking form of the offering is available—with Airtel offering assistance setting up private networks for customers who don’t want to use the public cellular airwaves for connectivity.

5G complements new edge services

The appeal of such a system is bolstered by the rapid rollout of 5G. Many of 5G’s key capabilities—including network slicing, stability and high speed—are complementary with what IBM wants to offer, although IBM Cloud CTO and general manager of industry cloud and solutions Hillery Hunter said that 5G isn’t an actual requirement for the service to work.

“This is sort of timed with the deployment of 5G, but the general concept of edge/cloud computing is independent of 5G,” she said.

Some of the draw for Indian businesses, according to Hunter, is regulatory peace of mind. While the regulatory space in India is “still evolving,” she said, the general trend is toward much more granularity and caution about where data is stored and how well it is protected.

“Data sovereignty is one of the first questions asked,” Hunter said. “While there aren’t specific regulations that this announcement plays into, everyone’s being asked to know where their data is and that it’s being kept private.”

Another major draw is flexibility. For the types of use cases that IBM sees as most important, solutions are changing rapidly in response to both industry needs and regulatory requirements, Hunter noted. Using the example of a workplace safety application designed for use on a factory floor, she said that requirements have changed precipitously over the past few years – where earlier systems could work well simply by monitoring for proper helmet use, the advent of COVID and masks changed the equation substantially.

“So that kind of change in what constitutes safe operations really requires that flexibility and adaptability of cloud,” Hunter said. “You don’t want to stick that software on a server in the corner of the floor.”

IBM said that it expects to finish developing the solution by the end of 2022, and deployment will begin in Q1 of 2023.

This story has been updated to include availability information for the edge cloud product.

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