How the edge will help manage disruption

Arthur Cole
Hands using laptop and smartphone

The enterprise is struggling to accommodate the connectivity needs of the legions of new teleworkers that have arisen in the past month, which in turn is placing a burden on the metro and regional network providers to keep the data flowing in this time of crisis.

Perhaps the most critical link in any local data infrastructure is the main trunk lines that carry data to and from multiple businesses and an even greater number of users. If this portion of the network becomes strained, data performance suffers and business slows. If it fails entirely, which is unlikely given the redundancies that are built in to most systems, the consequences would be vastly more serious.

Even before the virus hit, efforts were underway to relieve stress on core networks by pushing both physical and virtual compute and storage resources to the network edge. Not only is this expected to handle the brunt of data and service needs from new 5G infrastructure and the connected devices of the internet of things, but it also promises to greatly improve performance by increasing response times and providing a more intuitive, personalized touch to the way users interact with the digital ecosystem.

Unfortunately for those struggling through the current crisis, deployment of this new edge is in its nascent stage. But given that many observers expect the culture of telecommuting to continue long after the pandemic ebbs, the need for vibrant edge networking is clear.

As VMWare’s Sasha Emmerling notes, the edge works by pushing compute, networking and storage out of the data center, past the cloud, and into the local communities where it is needed. By interacting with user devices in this way, we avoid having to shunt massive amounts of data, much of it ephemeral and of little value beyond the immediate needs of the user, through core networks to centralized facilities at the enterprise. The beauty of it is that, through virtualization and SDN technology, the entire infrastructure can still be managed is a single entity from a centralized dashboard, giving the enterprise full control of its data ecosystem regardless of where it resides.

For organizations struggling to set up a working telecommuting environment, edge networking provides a number of ways to simplify existing topologies to reduce cost and streamline operational complexity, says Equinix’s Ryan Mallory. To get started, Mallory recommends adopting an “Interconnection Oriented Architecture” strategy that lays out a blueprint as to exactly how the system will address latency, bandwidth, security and a host of other issues. In most cases, organizations will find that relocating key digital business and IT functions to various edge nodes will enable a high degree of resiliency and scalability, all while individual nodes can be tailored to segment and optimize specific types of traffic. A major metro area, for example, will feature nodes with higher user traffic and data density, allowing you to cross-connect multiple collocated systems with partners, cloud services and network providers. Meanwhile, all nodes can be connected via optimized WAN links.

On the hardware level, the edge should combine ruggedness and broad scalability within an extremely small footprint. Already, traffic is starting to push past the 10Gbit/s edge infrastructure that has been deployed so far, causing providers to seek out 25, 40 and even 100Gbit/s solutions. At the same time, this new infrastructure will exist in a wide range of extreme environments, from the hottest deserts to near-arctic cold, with the durability to withstand earthquakes, hurricanes and other disasters. And functionally, of course, edge equipment should provide a wide range of fronthaul and backhaul services, network capabilities and centralized test and management functions, preferably through both open source and commercial SDN controllers.

Even the largest, most dominant enterprises in their fields will have a tough time surviving in the new digital economy if they lack the resilience to withstand disruption. By pushing infrastructure to the edge, organizations of all sizes will find they can more easily absorb the shock of unexpected events, putting them in a better position to thrive both during the crisis and afterward.

Arthur Cole

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