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Carnegie Mellon’s Gates Center for Computer Science. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Researchers at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University are set to receive hybrid cloud hardware and service credits from Microsoft as it looks to jump-start one of the most prominent sectors of its cloud strategy.

CMU’s Living Edge Lab will receive one of Microsoft’s Azure Data Box Edge devices, along with Azure Stack hardware in partnership with Intel. It will also receive Azure cloud computing credits to further the work it has already done on the challenges and opportunities presented by edge computing under the direction of Professor Mahadev Satyanarayanan (Satya).

Microsoft executives like to talk about edge computing as if it’s right around the corner. But this real impact of this shift won’t arrive for years as our mobile networks — which will carry an awful lot of edge computing traffic — upgrade to 5G speeds and application software developers realize they need to learn more about the possibilities provided by increased bandwidth and decreased latency.

“5G without edge computing is useless,” Satya said.

Carnegie Mellon is using the streetscape of Pittsburgh to experiment with edge computing applications. (Carnegie Mellon Photo)

Like cloud computing and mobile computing, edge computing will require new ways of thinking about application development; older methods designed for different styles of computing make certain assumptions about performance and availability that don’t necessarily make sense on the edge. Hardware will also with newer antenna technologies that can shape signals to best fit their environment, such as focusing beams down a narrow street or spreading them across an open park, and developers will need to understand how to harness those capabilities.

Satya’s lab has been working on these issues for years, and he currently has a staff of ten researching the best ways to operate on the edge. The Living Edge Lab is another segment of the work going on within CMU’s vaunted computer science department, similar to the edge computing chip work that fellow professor Anthony Rowe received a grant to tackle earlier this year but focused much more on the operating system and application layers of the computing stack.

“The intelligent edge, as a phenomenon, it is going to impact us for decades to come,” said Tad Brockway, head of product management for Azure Storage, Azure Stack, and media and entertainment services at Microsoft. “Our partnership with CMU and this Open Edge Initiative of course will be on research having to do with taking this innovation out into the future, but there are all sorts of interesting applications that are available today.”

Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon were already pretty close, given that its computer science building is named for Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates after a $20 million donation back in 2004 and their research organizations have been collaborating on edge computing since 2008. As part of this announcement, Microsoft is also joining the Open Edge Computing Initiative, which funds the Living Edge Lab.

[Editor’s note: This post was updated to correct the spelling of Microsoft’s Tad Brockway’s last name.]

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