Yesterday’s Edge Technologies Hold Back Tomorrow’s Enterprise

The problem IT faces today is that while the enterprise edge has changed dramatically over the past few years, edge technology has not. Let’s explore how yesterday’s edge technologies fall short from the perspective of what enterprises actually want and need from their edge technology platforms in a perfect world:

Agility & Velocity

What today’s enterprises need: The point of an edge location is to place staff close to where business happens. By extension, edge locations have a fundamental need to react quickly to changing business conditions. This could be fulfilling a massive order, rolling out a new store or branch, immediately executing a top-secret mission on the other side of the world, reacting at a moment’s notice to an outage that is affecting revenue-generating transactions or units coming off an assembly line far away from expert IT staff.

How yesterday’s technology falls short: Legacy IT architectures are complex and rigid. Configuration is done one device at a time, often with command line interfaces or complex homegrown scripts. Maintaining increasingly complex infrastructures at some edge locations, often from multiple vendors, adds to this complexity and time wasted. This problem is exacerbated at edge locations (which often number in the hundreds). Hand configuring and maintaining so many remote edge locations leads to the precise opposite of the agility and velocity the edge requires. This is further compounded by a lack of local IT resources, or operational costs incurred in effort to provide adequate on-site expertise.

Agility and Velocity
Agility and Velocity
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There is no point in pushing staff to the edge if they cannot react quickly to changing business needs. From a technology perspective, this means being able to quickly stand-up, modify or spin down crucial business apps and services.

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This is further compounded by a lack of local IT resources. Deploying, managing, troubleshooting and recovering edge locations is a slow, tedious and expensive proposition. Mistakes or delays lead to outages and brownouts, which leads to reduced edge productivity, potential for data loss, and as a result, a great deal of inefficiency and excess cost to the business. In today’s digital age, companies with the ability to proactively change as needs shift, and react with velocity are the ones most likely to compete at the top of their game.

Security

What today’s enterprises need: Security is a growing problem for IT and a priority-one focus for enterprises. Company data assets are rapidly growing in the digital age, not only from local applications but also from IoT devices. Today, roughly half of these vulnerable data assets sit at edge locations, and with the onset of IoT said to be exponentially increasing industrial data into the hundreds of zettabytes over the next 5 years, the vulnerability of data assets at the edge is a critical concern.

Adding to the risk, networks are also increasingly vulnerable with a growing number of ransom-ware, malware and virus-related attacks that can ultimately present grave consequences to a business. As the ability to stay competitive at the edge increases, enterprises will need to find the most cost-effective ways to meet compliance and security requirements without increasing risk. Enterprises will need to choose edge technology that ensures optimal control to those who hold ultimate accountability.

How yesterday’s technology falls short: Legacy IT architectures present a security nightmare. They place a heavy footprint of infrastructure at the edge with compute, storage, networking devices, and an enormous number of IoT devices, all of which presents an enlarged attack surface. Worse, legacy architectures place huge amounts of vulnerable data at minimally protected and minimally managed edge locations leading to an unacceptable risk of loss, attack or misappropriation.

Security
Security
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Edge locations are difficult to secure for several reasons. First, the edge is, by definition, removed from the Enterprise’s natural defenses (physical security at the HQ, perimeter security protecting data center technology). Second, edge locations lack the sufficient IT staff to enforce proper security protocols. And, finally, the remote nature of the edge that puts the enterprise closer to the customer also places the edge closer to bad actors (corporate espionage, political instability, criminal activity).

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And this challenge only exacerbates with surging growth of edge data being captured by sensors and devices in effort to maximize business opportunity.

Performance

What today’s enterprises need: As with security, achieving performance is more difficult at the edge — but application performance in today’s digital climate is the way work gets done, so it’s a top priority. Increased distances from the cloud or data center make application performance suffer, and for some applications such as database-driven ERP, POS or Line-of-Business systems, the health of the business counts on high availability and always-on local performance. For some sites, it is not always possible to cost-justify high-quality MPLS links to the edge, and a new generation of SaaS and public-cloud based apps have also brought about a hybrid approach to business apps and networks.

Today’s enterprises must be able to achieve increased control over the performance of Internet-based apps if they are to play a key role in business being transacted. And with the increased use of IoT at the edge to capture and analyze data, enterprises must also have the ability to run some data analytics close to the point of capture in order to stay agile.

How yesterday’s technology falls short: As previously discussed, it is difficult to deliver high performance at the edge due to distance, unreliable connectivity and a lack remote IT staff or clear visibility to troubleshoot issues that may arise. So, for mission critical apps where a lacking of local performance can cost in reputation, revenue and competitive advantage, edge locations often become costly-to-maintain, power-consuming, mini-data centers.

This traditionally means a significant server, storage, backup, WAN Op and networking infrastructure footprint on site at the edge location, often cobbled together with many systems to maintain from multiple vendors without the luxury of expert data center staff and resources. This exacerbates the problems described above of agility, velocity and security.

Performance
Performance
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Edge staff must often make due with less reliable public Internet links. Finally, the lack of local IT staff makes deploying, troubleshooting and optimizing edge performance more challenging.

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In addition, legacy apps and network services that run from the cloud or the data center will not run when connectivity is down, leading to a complete loss of productivity. Since outages are often more common at remote edge locations, this is a significant problem.

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