Today, the computing term ‘network edge’ refers to routers, firewalls, and wide area network (WAN) optimisation devices that have the ability to connect branch and remote users to applications while ensuring the performance, security and availability to deliver a high quality of experience. As businesses increasingly embrace IoT and connecting non-traditional IT ‘things’ to the network, including digital signs, point of sale devices, heart pumps, facilities equipment, robots, autonomous machines, and more, these devices will all communicate with each other at the ‘edge,’ as well as with cloud applications. Indeed, Juniper research projects that IoT connections are to reach 83 billion by 2024.
According to Kristian Thyregod, VP EMEA at Silver Peak, a specialist in the SD-WAN field, to best facilitate the uptake of edge computing, companies must look to their networks. “While fielding many benefits, the data created by IoT devices will drive an exponential increase in traffic traversing the network infrastructure, which in turn, could negatively affect the quality of experience to users and IT organisations. To fully facilitate the increasing uptake of the network edge, organisations must look to the evolution of their networking infrastructure in supporting its use.
“The traditional, router-centric WAN was optimised for branch to data centre communications. While it was inefficient and handled internet traffic poorly, it was acceptable for most companies as most of the WAN traffic was from client or server applications where the internet was primarily used for best effort services. Today, the environment is completely different, as the bulk of WAN traffic is cloud destined exposing the architectural limitations with legacy WAN approaches. The main challenge was that there was not a viable option to the traditional hub and spoke model,” Thyregod said.
Looking beyond WAN solutions
Businesses must now look beyond such ageing WAN solutions and towards more advanced software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) infrastructure, especially as organisations increasingly shift from the data centre to the cloud.
From Thyregod’s perspective, there are four key reasons that SD-WAN acts as a key enabler of IoT business initiatives:
“Firstly, with its ability to provide real-time visibility into the network, SD-WAN takes the guesswork out of rapid problem resolution. This enables organisations to run more efficiently by accelerating troubleshooting and applying preventive measures. CIOs can also pull metrics and see bandwidth consumed by any IoT applications.
“Secondly, SD-WANs ensure IoT traffic is isolated from other application traffic. This is not least because IT must prevent – or at least reduce – the possible attack surface that may be exposed to IoT device traffic. What is more, the network must continue delivering other application traffic in the event a WAN link is compromised by a DDoS attack.
“Thirdly, with the increased number of connected devices, applications and users, a comprehensive, intelligent and centralised orchestration approach that continuously adapts to deliver the highest quality of experience to the business and users is critical to success.
“And finally, while SD-WAN deployment time can depend on many factors, the time to deploy a single, remote location can be measured in minutes, not hours. Indeed, a centrally managed SD-WAN enables network managers to quickly make changes, add new locations or new applications without the overhead of configuring changes on a manual device by device and site-by-site basis, thereby enabling them to be more responsive to the business.”
Thyregod’s comments underline the increasing expectations of a dynamic network, especially as cloud computing becomes prevalent, cloud-based computer processing must be scaled up or down in alignment with changing requirements at the edge.
SD-WANs that can leverage low cost, high-speed broadband connectivity could enable branch and remote office users to better harness the power of public cloud computing instances with the performance, security and availability required to handle advanced IoT applications.
The benefits of edge capabilities
To resolve the challenges of disruptive change in the enterprise, such as IoT, advanced SD-WAN solutions – such as those that Thyregod works with – are emerging that apply AI to fill in network services with better context and connectivity.
This AI fuels ‘self-driving’ wide area networks with advanced capabilities that detect changing conditions and automatically make immediate adjustments before they can cause problems, resulting in productivity gains and cost savings to IT and network operations teams seeking to deliver business services to their constituents.
From his perspective, Thyregod views the benefits of using automation and machine learning at the edge to be clear. “There are advantages to embedding automation and machine learning at the edge, as it will ultimately power a self-driving wide area network that gets smarter each day,” Thyregod concluded. “Put simply, it speaks to the ‘edge’ devices sitting in the branch offices. There, distributed learning is done by looking at the first packet, making an inference based on the first packet of what the application is.
“So, if seeing that 100 times now, every time packets come from that IP address and turns out to be an IoT, it can make an inference that IP belongs to an IoT application. In parallel, using a mix of advanced techniques to validate the identification of the application. All this combined with other multi-level intelligence enables simple and automated policy orchestration across many devices and applications.”