What is edge networking? An overview on the network edge

July 26, 2021 | Nick Cavalancia

This article was written by an independent guest author.

As organizations look for ways to improve network performance for user-facing application data, it is becoming increasingly evident that routing requests all the way to internal data centers is the least optimized model. Doing so increases latency, reduces available bandwidth, increases bandwidth requirements at the data center, and increases overall costs. 

However, with elevated concerns over cybersecurity, accessibility, and control, organizations must look for ways to architect access to these user-facing systems and data but do so with optimized performance in mind.

One such solution is to utilize edge networking.

What is the network edge?

The network edge is the part of a company’s network where devices or the internal network itself connect to the internet. An edge network can exist either in the cloud or on-premises depending on how your core network architecture is set up, despite the fact that the network edge logically sits between the Internet and your internal network.

There are a number of different devices that can sit at the network edge and control entry into your core network. These include modems, routers, routing switches, integrated access devices (IADs), multiplexers, and different network access devices. Additionally, it is possible to deliver outward-facing applications and services from within the edge network. This is done in cases where it’s more advantageous to run applications and services closer to the external user from both a performance and security standpoint than having them running within internal data centers on your core network.

Explaining network edge vs network core 

I’ve mentioned the network core several times above, so I should probably define how the network core differs from the network edge. The network core and network edge are logical networking environments that each serve a different purpose for your organization.

The network core is the infrastructure that supports all the devices on an organization’s internal network, connecting all the parts of your network and ensuring they can all communicate with each other. When you or I are referring to a traditional “network environment”, this is generally what we’re referring to, as the network core covers everything internal, including the servers in your datacenter.

Meanwhile, the network edge exists to facilitate efficient access to data and apps needed by external users (this can be in the form of either routing to internal systems, applications, and data, or by hosting those same resources within the network edge.

Edge networking vs edge computing 

You’ll very often hear the terms edge networking and edge computing used in the same conversation. While they are intrinsically linked to each other, it’s important to understand the difference between the two concepts.

The way modern IT infrastructures are set up means that applications and data are processed in either private data centers, public clouds, or a combination of both (known as a hybrid environment). These environments can end up being highly geographically dispersed from the end user creating inefficiencies in terms of bandwidth usage and response times for data transfer. Edge computing looks to move computation power away from these centralized data center setups and instead place it close to the edge of the network and therefore closer to the end user.

Meanwhile, edge networking focuses on the network architecture and how routing is optimized and accomplished to support edge computing.

Distinction between the two concepts also lies in designating who controls the underlying network infrastructure equipment. For example, usually a corporate network will comprise several different elements such as a wired LAN, a wireless LAN, and one or more private data centers – with internal IT responsible for managing and controlling each of these network elements. On the other hand, business networks also include a WAN to connect remote offices/users, as well as to the internet and any public cloud resources. WAN connectivity usually consists of externally owned and managed infrastructure. So, in some cases, edge networking is operated as a service by an outside party, with edge computing being either wholly or partially managed by internal IT.

Benefits of edge networking for businesses  

Edge networking allows businesses to conserve network resources thereby reducing latency, bottlenecks, and spend. It does this by offering the following:

  • Optimized networking
    Edge networking can help conserve network resources by offloading network traffic away from the core network. By doing this it reduces the danger of network latency caused by bottlenecks of the movement of data.
  • Flexibility
    Edge networks can exist either in the cloud or on-premises, giving businesses a range of different network architecture options that can help them meet goals in areas such as security, compliance, and operations.
  • Performance
    As highlighted above, edge computing ensures that workloads are placed closer to the actual end user resulting in improved user experience and realized productivity because of the improved performance/reduced latency.
  • Reduced Costs
    Ensuring that you’re delivering data from closer to your user can help reduce the infrastructure costs necessary to deliver an application as it is limiting and consolidating requests to services residing on the network edge rather than needing to route to data center applications and infrastructure.
Nick Cavalancia

About the Author: Nick Cavalancia

Nick Cavalancia is a Microsoft Cloud and Datacenter MVP, has over 25 years of enterprise IT experience, is an accomplished consultant, speaker, trainer, writer, and columnist, and has achieved industry certifications including MCSE, MCT, Master CNE, Master CNI. Nick regularly speaks, writes and blogs for some of the most recognized tech companies today on topics including cybersecurity, cloud adoption, business continuity, and compliance.

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