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The Edge – It’s Not about Location

If you work in IT or networking, you’ve heard the buzz about “the edge.” In the world of IT, the edge is the concept of distribution – data processing closer to the end user of that data. In the world of networking, the edge also distributes, by taking the point of connection between your LAN and your vendor’s infrastructure out of a centralized data center and into locations much closer to those accessing the network.

But the nature of the edge is not about location. It’s about the user and digital customer experience.

The shift to the edge isn’t just about bringing data closer – it’s about creating an optimized and secured digital experience for every end user, wherever data is delivered or consumed.

Your employees no longer work from a centralized location. They may visit an office from time to time, but they now work from anywhere – from home, from a cafe, from a hotel, from any city and any country.

Your employees no longer use just the computer issued by the company. They conduct company business using both company and personal laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Your customers no longer just visit your brick-and-mortar sites – they call, they go online, and they expect service that’s personalized and ready when they are. They’re doing all this over the public Internet, at any time of the day or night.

With this amount of movement and distribution, computing and networking has followed the user. If you’re still networking the “old” way – funneling all traffic over hard-wired connections to your centralized data center – take a look at a few companies that have mastered the edge, to the delight of their staff and customers. Following these examples, we’ll discuss how edge networking completes the digital transformation for your employees and customers.

Starbucks Gets the Edge:

Starbucks has mastered the edge. Knowing that their customers need quick service, hate waiting in line, and may (or may not) hang out at their stores, they’ve developed a well-functioning smartphone app that acts as the business interface for their customers.

Using the app, customers order coffee, identify their order, indicate when they’d like it, and pay for it online. While customers of other coffee shops wait in line, Starbucks customers can simply stroll into a store, to a waiting hot drink and snack, and stroll out again.

1-800-FLOWERS Gets the Edge:

Imagine the condition (and expense) of a floral delivery that originated thousands of miles away from a centralized warehouse. Like with Starbucks, the product is tangible, and 1-800-FLOWERS has digitally transformed the experience of gift-giving for their customers.

Their particular distribution lies with local florists (and now other retailers, such as bakeries, party stores, and the like) around the world. Over the phone, by using 1-800-FLOWERS.com, or on their smartphone app, customers order an exact arrangement, include a digitized greeting, and pay for their order – which can usually be delivered on the same day. Since the floral arrangement originates very close to the end customer, it’s fast, fresh, and less expensive.

Amazon Really Gets the Edge:

Amazon sells everything. Clearly, they cannot stock every possible item a consumer might be interested in buying, closer to that consumer. So, they have become masters of big data.

Amazon tracks your activity on its site or app and predicts what else you may be interested in. From there, it compares those items to others in your city, knows if you’re a frequent reviewer, consults its own and third-party inventory, and stocks accordingly. In this way, they can stock the items you and your neighbors are most likely to purchase closer to you, reducing the cost and “latency” of the delivery.

Amazon also predicts. Using your search history, they make recommendations of items you may also be interested in buying. These items are already stored close to you and delivered quickly once ordered. Amazon’s prediction engine is said to account for over 35% of its total sales.

Amazon has combined it all: a massive distribution network of third-party sellers, personalized marketing using big data, predictive analytics, and edge warehousing, to redefine digital retailing.

Good Edge Computing Requires
Sound Edge Networking

Bringing that personalized “edge computing” experience to your staff and customers also requires the right networking decisions. The good news: accommodating your distributed work environment without sacrificing the performance and security of your data, isn’t complicated, and doesn’t require a wholesale replacement of your entire network. Two added bonuses: edge networking may improve your latency performance and bring networking cost savings as well.

When your staff and customers are no longer centralized, when they need to access you from anywhere, on any device, at any time of day, it’s time to look for networking solutions that can surgically adapt to different users, devices, applications, and locations. Remember – the edge is about a person’s experience, so your network needs to apply to each person individually.

As you continue to digitally transform, accommodate hybrid and remote work environments, and adopt the emerging technologies that bring your staff and customers closer, your network will need to be agile and borderless. No matter where you’re processing your data (on-premises, in a private data center, or in a public, multi- or hybrid cloud environment), you’ll need to connect the edge to the core to the cloud. You’ll need “edge-to-everywhere” connectivity.

Vendors now offer a wide array of choices in how your edge network is deployed and secured. But at a minimum, you’ll need a vendor who can implement your solution with no disruption, economically, and with the following key networking elements:

  • Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN): SD-WAN enhances application performance by connecting users and the cloud with a unified security set of rules that follow each user, and resilient network technology regardless of location or technology.
  • Comprehensive Security: Secure every step of the multi-cloud journey from end user to cloud. This can include zero trust, secure access service edge (SASE), cloud access security broker (CASB), network firewall, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection.
  • Remote-Access-as-a-Service (RAaaS): With RAaaS, you can increase the security, performance, and responsiveness of your applications regardless of where they are hosted. Software as a service (SaaS), cloud applications and access, on-premises applications, zero trust security measures, and the “ephemeral edge” are all deployed onto your users’ devices. The rules apply no matter the location or the device of the user.
  • Network Intelligence through Network Observability: You need insight across your network, from LTE to 400G. Imagine having visibility and control of your network’s health and performance, across multiple platforms, domains, and silos – from edge to core to cloud – with access to problem discovery, alerting, and resolution recommendations. A proper edge solution means that the network does the work for you. It incorporates AIOps to drastically reduce operational workload and improve incident outcomes, truly end-to-end.

Explore how the edge has evolved over the years

Future blog posts will discuss each of these elements in greater detail. In the meantime, start formulating your edge strategy to include a WAN transformation that allows you to take the greatest advantage of the needs of each of your users and customers as your operations become more and more distributed.

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