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The top 5 capabilities your edge infrastructure should have

The network edge plays a vital role in the future of networking and digital transformation. Make sure your infrastructure has these five components to help it on its way.

Legacy architectures can hold organizations back from their digital transformation goals, so it may be time for companies to try life on the edge.

Network edge infrastructure needs to support more advanced technologies -- such as cloud services and IoT -- but legacy networks often fall short. Traditional hub-and-spoke architecture, for example, can hinder transformation due to its lack of scalability and high costs, said Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group based in Milford, Mass., in a recent webinar about network edge requirements.

With consistent growth in the amount of IoT devices and data they produce, organizations should rethink how their networks handle this data, as existing WAN architectures may prohibit progress.

"Organizations aren't looking to deploy new data centers; they're looking to deploy the minimal amount of infrastructure to support those environments," Laliberte said. "The network edge platform has a real opportunity to be a building block for the future."

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) technology is an essential part of the edge, which Laliberte defined as anywhere that data can be generated. SD-WAN can enable secure network connections and prioritize network traffic so latency decreases and essential applications don't become single points of failure.

Network edge infrastructure with SD-WAN, enhanced security, access to cloud environments and compatibility with applications and technology such as 4G and 5G can help organizations get closer to digital transformation and the future of networks.

Essential features for your network edge infrastructure

The network edge platform has a real opportunity to be a building block for the future.
Bob LaliberteSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

To get started with network edge infrastructure, Laliberte said the following five capabilities are essential for any edge platform to support diverse business initiatives, as well as growing amounts of IoT devices and endpoints.

Secure connections. Growing numbers of network security threats means network edge infrastructure requires secure connections for all users that access the network. Examples of important network security features include encryption, service chaining and segmentation, Laliberte said. Segmentation is particularly crucial, because it segments the network and keeps different traffic types separate -- such as IoT, guest network or cloud traffic -- which can prevent a single point of failure.

Compatibility with mobile networks. Various organizations turn to cellular technology for backup network connections instead of MPLS, Laliberte said. While 5G is still far from being the norm in enterprise networks, many organizations already use 4G links within their SD-WAN environment. Compatibility and connectivity between cellular technology and network edge infrastructure can be cost efficient for organizations that require remote and mobile user support.

Direct access to cloud environments. Edge computing and cloud computing are closely related, and so are the network edge and cloud environments. These environments require direct connections to one another to ensure optimal user performance. Direct access from the network edge to cloud environments eliminates an organization's need to backhaul data through data centers, according to Laliberte. Organizations can also integrate automation capabilities into data backhaul processes to minimize errors and redundant tasks for network teams.

Prioritize application traffic. Many organizations embrace business-critical applications, such as those for credit card processing or unified communications, to ensure their operations run smoothly, and the network has to consistently support these capabilities. Edge infrastructure is critical to manage traffic requirements, especially for applications in cloud environments, Laliberte said. This means network teams can set policies to prioritize business-critical application traffic that travels to and from the network edge.

Centralized management and monitoring. As network environments transform, so, too, must network teams' management and monitoring processes. Centralized management processes can benefit enterprises with various geographic locations and remote workers, because it minimizes management sprawl, which can enhance network agility, Laliberte said. Centralized provisioning can also increase network visibility into data centers and network edge infrastructure, so teams can resolve issues quickly and better ensure consistent network performance.

Overall, network edge infrastructure can be a building block for organizations on their way to network and digital transformation. With the help of SD-WAN and mobile networks for direct, secure access to applications and data, network edge infrastructure can better support users and organizations as a whole.

"We need to be thinking about the edge of data centers, the edge of clouds, the edge of all the remote locations we have -- and we need to make sure that, as we think about these edge platforms, the focus is on these services we can deliver," Laliberte said.

This was last published in August 2019

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What other capabilities do you think the network edge should support?
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Store and forward (be able to cope with network drops)

Zero subscriptions (becomes a pain for OEMs who want to sell a machine with edge capabilities embedded)

Minimal footprint/overhead (you might not want to deploy on a rasberry pi but it should run on one)

Minimal dependencies both software and hardware

Mutiple fallback positions (Escalators are my heros.. they become stairs when they fail)
-If you can't use our edge box, just install our edge software on your box
-If you can't use our edge software, just call our server's web services
-If you can't call a web service or an API, here's where you can push xml/csv
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