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The Edge: A New Network for a New Data Environment

Monday Jul 30th 2018 by Arthur Cole

Edge computing will provide a better experience for end users, but supporting edge networks will require new technological advances.

Edge networking is clearly “the next big thing” in enterprise circles. Thi is odd considering that the “last big thing,” cloud computing, is still evolving in terms of technology development and adoption.

The edge, of course, is designed to push computing closer to the users, who will soon be equipped with more connected devices than they know what to do with and, in fact, will likely be connected in ways they are not even aware of. The whole idea is to reduce latency to near real-time levels without overwhelming the central network trunks on either the carrier or the data center level.

But this technology is still in its infancy, and getting it to work properly requires a lot more than new forms of networking. It will require advances in computing power, analytics, storage and a host of other elements.

The edge will also carry data that is vastly different from what is found on current networks, says Vodafone’s Dr. Csaba Kiss Kallo. In an interview with Tech Central, Kallo noted that more than 60 percent of mobile traffic today is video, which is likely to jump to 80 percent by 2020. With the advent of 5G, the edge will have to accommodate not only the higher data loads of video and other streaming data, but will have to do so reliably and with few, if any, artifacts.

This is why the networking industry is starting to devote more of its R&D budget to the edge. Extreme Networks recently introduced the new Smart OmniEdge solution that leverages artificial intelligence to provide a secure wired/wireless infrastructure at the edge. The system is designed to improve the user experience by providing common visibility, policy and authentication services throughout the entire IT infrastructure, while at the same time allowing applications and services to evolve and adapt to changing requirements. The system consists of an on-premises cloud appliance, a hosted RF management app, a multi-layer logical switch and an integrated security solution.

Meanwhile, HPE is out with a new Edgeline server aimed at supporting advanced SAP Hana and Azure cloud workloads at the edge. The portfolio includes new EL1000 and EL4000 machines preloaded with SQL Server, Azure, SAP and other tools from Centrix and GE. The software is designed to extend data center and cloud functionality to the edge rather than run modified versions of software to accommodate reduced processing and network performance on distributed architectures. The company says this will be particularly useful for key industry verticals like manufacturing, oil and gas exploration and municipal infrastructure. (Disclosure: I provide content services for HPE).

But exactly how will all this technology improve the user experience? A good test case is the healthcare industry, says HIT Infrastructure’s Elizabeth O’Dowd. The industry is already pretty far-forward in areas like edge networking and artificial intelligence. For one thing, the edge provides a convenient data platform for doctors, patients, clinicians, pharmacists and other stakeholders to coordinate patient care and produce better health outcomes. At the same time, it can help control costs by streamlining insurance processes, subscription fulfillment and a host of other functions that are currently plagued by duplication, miscommunication and poor data access. When even a single hospital can have thousands — and perhaps tens of thousands — of data points, edge networking will quickly become a critical element in the fight to save lives.

The edge may be getting all the attention at the moment, but it’s important to keep in mind that it is not an infrastructure unto itself. To provide full functionality, it will have to connect to equally robust infrastructure in the cloud and the data center. With this three-layered network architecture in place, however, the enterprise should be able to deliver the instant gratification that consumers demand from their services, coupled with a steadily improving experience to keep them engaged over the long term.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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