Understanding the network edge and edge networking
By Alex Hawkes|5 June, 2023
Generally speaking, a network ‘edge’ is the boundary between two separate networks - where one network ends and another begins. Edges are important, primarily from a security standpoint as they define the jurisdictions owned by different parties, and ‘the edge’ has become a more popular topic of conversation recently through trends which see network resources moved from centralised locations to network edges to make them closer to the end user.
What is a network edge?
In the context of enterprise networking, the network edge is the boundary between the private corporate network and the public internet. It is the point where traffic from the internet enters the private network and vice versa. Primarily, the network edge is a critical security boundary and the first line of defence against threats from the internet.
Where is the network edge exactly?
Network edges are present wherever there is a device or piece of infrastructure that facilitates traffic crossing from one network to another.
Such devices can include:
- Routers (includes fixed and wireless/5G routers as well as mobile phones)
- Load balancers
- Servers used in Content delivery networks (CDNs)
These devices, and the network edge by extension, can be located in a variety of physical places, such as:
Specific locations of the enterprise network edge will depend on the size and complexity of the network. For example, an employee using a wireless router or dongle without a corporate VPN to access cloud services may be doing so over the public internet, in which case they will not cross the network edge until they access services on the private network (such as a private Sharepoint drive).
But an employee using a 5G wireless router along with a corporate VPN may be accessing those same cloud services over a private network, with their traffic being pulled back from their end device to the corporate data centre and then back out to the cloud. In this case the network edge will likely exist within the data centre.
Why is the network edge important?
The devices that are in place must work together to protect the network from attacks coming from other networks, such as the public internet. Edge network devices also route traffic to the correct destinations, and may dynamically adjust or reconfigure to ensure that the network is performing at its best and services and applications are running optimally.
From a management perspective, the network edge is a complex and ever-evolving part of any network. As new threats emerge and new technologies are deployed, a routine part of maintenance is to constantly reassess and readjust the edge to protect the private network from attack.
Some of the benefits of a strong network edge include:
- Improved security: The network edge is the first line of defence against threats from the public internet and can reduce the risk of your private network being compromised.
- Increased performance: A well configured network edge can improve the performance of applications and services on your network by routing traffic to the correct destinations and ensuring that the network is not congested or overloaded.
- Reduced costs: A strong network edge can reduce the overall cost of your network security by preventing attacks from occurring in the first place. Ensure the majority of threats are caught by the first line of defence, so more expensive and in-depth measures can be deployed to catch more sophisticated attacks.
Challenges in edge networking
The top three challenges an enterprise might face when deploying an edge network are:
- Security: Edge networking introduces new security challenges, as it creates a larger attack surface. Enterprises need to carefully consider how to secure their edge networks, and have a plan in place to respond to security incidents emerging from different devices or locations.
- Complexity: Edge networking can be complex from a management perspective as it requires the coordination of multiple devices and systems over a large surface area. Enterprises need to have a robust management infrastructure in place to manage the multitude of devices and locations that make up the edge network.
- Cost: Closely related to the above two points - edge networking can be expensive, as it requires the purchase and deployment of suitable devices and systems that achieve the desired aims without sacrificing security.
Benefits of edge networking in multi- and hybrid cloud environments
Edge networking can facilitate public cloud access for enterprises in a number of ways, by:
- Improving the performance of applications that are hosted in the cloud. By placing edge devices closer to the users of the cloud-based application, the physical distance that data has to travel is reduced, which can improve performance by reducing latency.
- Improving the security of applications that are hosted in the cloud. By placing security controls closer to the cloud-hosted data, the risk of data breaches is reduced.
- Reducing the costs of accessing the cloud. By deploying devices on the edge and thereby offloading some of the processing and storage requirements to the edge, enterprises can reduce the resources or capabilities they need to purchase from cloud providers.
Some specific edge network technologies can be used to improve public cloud access for enterprises, including:
- Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): CDNs are a type of edge network server that is used to deliver content to end users (employees or customers) more quickly. By caching content at the edge - rather than a centralised data centre, CDNs can reduce the distance that data has to travel, which can improve performance.
- Network Function Virtualization (NFV): The foundation of Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) or Software Defined Cloud Interconnect (SDCI), NFV is a technology that allows singular network functions to be virtualised and deployed on edge devices as software instead of dedicated hardware. This can help to reduce the cost of network infrastructure and improve the performance of applications.
- Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN): SD-WAN is a technology that can be used to optimise the performance of traffic between private network edge devices and the public cloud. This can help to improve the performance of applications and reduce the cost of network infrastructure.
Automation in edge networking: What are the benefits?
The main benefits automation has introduced for enterprises deploying edge networking include:
- Reduced costs: Automation can help to reduce the costs of edge networking by automating tasks such as configuration, provisioning, and monitoring. The use of APIs also improves interfacing and interacting with external services. This can free up IT staff to focus on other tasks.
- Improved performance: Automation can help to improve the performance of edge networks by automating tasks such as traffic routing and load balancing. This can help to ensure that applications are always available and that users experience the best possible performance, by reducing congestion and latency. Again, APIs can also streamline the way internal services interact with external or third party services.
Enhanced security: Automation can help to enhance the security of edge networks by automating tasks such as vulnerability scanning and patch management. This can help to protect networks from cyberattacks, reducing the risk of human error and freeing up employees to focus on other tasks.
Think of automation as a way to programmatically action the more boring and repetitive tasks that humans don’t enjoy and are more prone to make mistakes doing. Such as:
- Configuration automation: This can help to ensure that edge devices are configured correctly and up-to-date with the latest security patches.
- Provisioning automation: This can help to ensure that new devices are provisioned quickly and efficiently.
- Monitoring automation: This can help to ensure that edge devices are performing as expected and that any problems are detected and actioned early.
Edge solutions for network connectivity
Edge Port by Console Connect is a service enabling businesses to connect directly into the Console Connect platform from enterprise locations worldwide.
As the network edge expands with enterprises moving into smaller and more locations to better accommodate a hybrid workforce, Edge Port is a much easier way to get access from a company site into the Console Connect MPLS network and the entire cloud service ecosystem it supports.
Edge Port helps businesses rapidly scale their digital ecosystem into clouds, applications, devices and any other business that is connected to the Console Connect platform, with an automated service that shrinks the amount of time it takes to get connected.
For a hybrid work environment that sees employees working alone or in pockets over a wider geographic area, Edge SIM by Console Connect is the world’s first private connectivity solution to dynamically and securely route traffic directly between IoT or wireless devices and clouds globally over a private network.
Available in 180+ countries, Edge SIM ensures mobile traffic is not exposed to the public internet, with an end-to-end VPN ensuring data is fully protected and connected to any of the main cloud platforms, including AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud, IBM Cloud, Alibaba Cloud and more.
Furthermore, by adding a Console Connect Access Port, businesses can dynamically link their enterprise locations and network environments, including data centres, Wide Area Networks (WAN) and last mile access using wireless connectivity with all the security requirements taken care of.