The network must change to support digital transformation. New customer experiences, remote workers, IoT devices, and distant cloud infrastructures force IT management to rethink operations. Meanwhile, new applications, automation, AI/ML, digital devices, and robotics all demand enormous bandwidth, faster throughput, and unflinching availability. This shift requires IT to rein in their expenses or sincerely affect the enterprise bottom line.
Redirecting traffic over MPLS to a core location is no longer viable—scaling the model is expensive and the performance unsatisfactory. Enabling a WAN edge, or branch offices with direct internet access (DIA), provides the appropriate performance and reduces cost.
It should be noted that a WAN edge will introduce risk. As the last physical area IT controls before data exits to the internet and cloud, great care must be taken when architecting these locations. If architected correctly, the WAN edge can help enterprises achieve their transformative goals in a successful manner. If architected improperly, the WAN edge can become a quagmire of poor performance, cost, and an open door to access sensitive information.
Six requirements should be considered when enabling a WAN edge. Successful digital transformation demands that IT management equip WAN edge locations with infrastructure that:
Branch offices cannot offer the same physical space as their core and campus counterparts—IT cannot stack bare-metal compute, storage and security platforms. Edge infrastructure must integrate non-negotiable capabilities into a single platform.
Enabling branch offices with direct internet access will provide optimal paths to cloud applications, however, maintenance and provisioning should not remain a manual process. SD-WAN provides “zero-touch” network provisioning and management, allowing IT to set effective policies, see network status in real-time, and make instantaneous changes to the WAN from a single dashboard.
More and more digital devices are connecting to the WAN as remote work and IoT grows. Bandwidth demands in digital transformation are enormous, and edge infrastructure equipment must have the density and capability to carry such data. It is important to purchase infrastructure that cuts no corners on silicon components, otherwise performance will suffer, especially in burst scenarios.
Edge locations with direct internet access enabled increase enterprise risk—unless there are adequate information security controls on premise. As mentioned in the first bullet, branch offices cannot offer the same physical space to stack security products, so these functions (e.g., firewall, IPS, URL filtering, antivirus) must be offered within the modest platform as a virtual service.
Advancements in wireless technology enable new digital experiences. 4G LTE is a good historical example, as ridesharing and home renting changed the way we work and travel. 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will change the world in parallel ways—so edge infrastructure must be prepared to support these standards and frequencies. Otherwise, business will fall behind.
The convenient nature behind ordering, deploying and provisioning edge infrastructure makes these products vulnerable to malicious actors in the supply and operations chain. Whether your edge infrastructure sits in customs or a distant branch office with an unlocked door, the bare-metal itself should have embedded technologies to prevent rogue tampering. hardware options should also include accommodations for a wide range of environments, such as ruggedization for extreme conditions. Finally, support must be available to ship, service and replace any product in record time.
Though, the possibilities for digital transformation remain endless, IT must architect the WAN with appropriate capabilities, along with cost-saving and security mechanisms. Considering the requirements above, enterprises will be well-equipped to meet the customer demands in a way that can scale and keep the enterprise competitive.