Infrastructure and networking have recently become much less rigid and restrictive, and much more intelligent.
Cloud computing has made infrastructure dynamic and scalable on demand, shifting cost models from capital expenditures to operational expenses. Software-defined networks (SDNs) take advantage of abstraction and virtualization to decentralize core network components while centrally managing them. And now network functions virtualization (NFV) technology promises to further distribute network infrastructure.
As part of a computing evolution, appliances and hardware are moving from the core of the data center to the network edge. This coincides with the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), which also pushes data from external sensors and devices toward the enterprise.
Edge devices can be anything from routers and switches to access devices and wide area network multiplexors. They perform the heavy lifting of more intelligent jobs, such as providing authentication and quality of service to shape and prioritize traffic. Whether physical or virtual, these devices connect local area networks with wide area networks. To get started with this migration, follow the pointers below.
1. Focus on moving devices to the edge.
There are many compelling reasons to move network devices to the edge. For starters, SDN and NFV maturation offers buyers a choice of cost-effective, robust technology. As the edge becomes more intelligent, legacy physical hardware will be more expensive to maintain. What’s more, legacy gear won’t be able to offer the data and traffic flow capabilities that are required of intelligent infrastructure.
Network abstraction to manage virtual devices gives IT managers more centralized control, rather than having to maintain an operating system on each and every device. In an SDN environment, applications handle dynamic routing, access control and virtualization, which means that updates and policy changes can be pushed out more quickly and easily.
2. Become more agile.
By moving from all-in-one appliances to a virtualized network, IT teams can perform rollouts and upgrades much faster. They also avoid vendor lock-in, as APIs gain increased importance as a means to programmatically control infrastructures and networks.
3. Get a handle on data.
The influx of data created by IoT compels organizations to focus, push and update devices at the edge. Traditionally, data has been pushed to the data center for storage and analysis. However, these vast volumes of data can become unwieldy and widely distributed. Organizations should move analytics to the edge for more immediate insights and results from IoT devices and sensors. What’s more, offloading processing from the core makes the analysis that still takes place in the data center more efficient.
4. Understand your business.
Before jumping into the virtualization fray, clearly understand the ‘why’ of virtualizing a network or data center. Reworking an enterprise infrastructure or network topology is not trivial and can have long-term financial and human capital effects. Organizations that provide IoT services should optimize their edge devices to support the traffic generated by mobile devices and sensors. Organizations providing secure access to the network (for instance, through a virtual private network) may wish to consider specialized security devices.
5. Perform an audit.
Before IT managers can shift devices or set up new topologies on the edge, they must have a full accounting of the network hardware running on the network. Some hardware could be repurposed, and other devices, retired. Not knowing what’s available can be more detrimental than useful.
6. Identify leaders.
Don’t embark on infrastructure changes without having experts on hand. These can be internal champions who are familiar with the latest SDN and NFV technology or an outside consultant to aid in navigating the options. Finding someone who understands your business and this emerging technology can reduce future equipment and human capital investments.
Refocusing on enabling the edge with newfound intelligence can move an organization forward. The move may not be easy, but the results can be dramatic.