As the cloud evolution rolls on, networks are under pressure to align with this new operating model. From the high-speed internet revolution of the early 2000s, the rise of mobile broadband in the 2010s, to the most recent jump into remote working models, networks connect the digital future. Most recently, their enhancements include 5G mobile internet, software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN), and secure access secure edge (SASE), a new paradigm in connecting and securing remote points.
What do all these latest changes have in common? They are shifting the network away from its fixed-line paradigm, says Jacques Malherbe, Axiz CTO.
“Let’s look at the standard WAN. That used to be a network where fixed-lines lead from the centre to fixed points at fixed locations. Things didn’t really move around, and if you wanted serious network performance you’d connect as a hardpoint. Today, that is entirely different. Increasingly, people connect through WiFi instead of LAN cables. And the stable endpoint is being replaced by movement, thanks to mobile wireless networks.”
It wasn’t that long ago when the world was dazzled by the then-impressive wireless speeds provided by 4G/LTE. Today, choices are even faster and more exhaustive. But while we are moving beyond the need for fixed network locations, our increased mobility has created a new challenge.
A new edge in an old network world
The cloud brought with it another dimension to connectivity: the edge. In the cloud world, the edge signifies those points that are not part of the central cloud hub. We interact almost exclusively through the edge: every time we use an app on our phone to access an online service, we are part of the edge.
In effect, while the central cloud is the home of high-demand processing, such as applications and data analysis, the edge is where data collection, user experiences and more limited processing occur. The edge represents our connected world, yet we are only starting to provide technologies that support it.
“The edge is not just a spot on the periphery of a computer network, ” explains Malherbe. “In the past, the network client and servers had relatively little to do with each other. The client machines would draw data such as files from servers, but usually launch the application on its side. Servers would manage workloads and other heavy tasks, but there wasn’t as much interaction. Today, it’s very different. The edge and cloud can work together or independently on various levels. How well they facilitate each other is key to better performance and extra value from technology.”
As an example, he adds: “Think of using Netflix: if the service is slow, you can’t watch something, and if the app is outdated, you can’t watch something either. There is a necessary synergy, and often fixed WAN infrastructure cannot maintain that synergy.”
Taming the edge
As mentioned, add in remote working, and the shortcomings of fixed WANs become very obvious. Then how do we empower the edge to a standard we require? The answer is the wireless WAN edge.
Wireless WAN technologies offer considerable advantages over fixed WANs. They can route via internet infrastructure, so companies don’t rely on only proprietary WANs to connect with people across cities, countries or the globe. Wireless networks are less susceptible to terrestrial interruptions – namely, a severed cable.
An obvious benefit is that they aren’t fixed: one can easily relocate a wireless endpoint, even keeping it constantly mobile – such as with networks connecting IOT sensors on a vehicle. Wireless networks scale well because it’s in their DNA, thanks to the investments of mobile operators. And using wireless WAN systems that leverage national operators also cuts down on the number of ISPs one might have to juggle otherwise.
Wireless WAN Edge solutions leverage these advantages specifically for edge use cases. Through using 4G/LTE and 5G, wireless WAN edge solutions connect people where they are. Optimising software ensures the best routing of traffic, reducing unnecessary traffic between the cloud and edge.
“With digital transformation moving faster than ever, wide-area network connections need to be reliable, secure and flexible. They need to be wireless. Current networks cannot satisfy the service requirements of modern high-definition applications, their traffic patterns and loads, the modern workforce and the growing sensorised world. Whether you are looking at connecting remote workforces with your cloud, deploying IOT devices, or creating flexible points of presence, wired WANs are a barrier. Wireless WAN solutions, especially those focused on enabling the edge, are the ticket to the type of networks we all need today and tomorrow,” says Malherbe.
The edge is a fundamental part of the cloud era. It’s the outlying yin to the cloud’s central yang. While fixed WANs remain a crucial part of reliable networking, they cannot connect the edge in ways that meet the world’s evolving needs. But wireless can, and is, taming the edge through wireless WAN edge technologies.