Last week, Celona, a private 5G networking company unveiled its edgeless enterprise architecture, which enables companies to build a scalable, agile and high-performance network to power its “edge.” I find the term “edgeless” interesting as it could appear to be in opposition to all the hype currently around edge computing. Definitionally, the concept of edgeless is akin to having the edge everywhere.
This is similar to the way the industry used to discuss the enterprise security border. At one time, the perimeter was a fixed location – the internet gateway. Anything inside that point was considered secure and anything outside was assumed to be a threat. Over time, cloud services, VPN connections, split tunnels in branch offices and other trends eroded the border, and we started to refer to the enterprise as being “borderless.”
The same phenomenon is occurring with the edge where there are multiple edges. There’s a campus edge, IoT edge, wireless edge, cloud edge, work-from-home edge, and the list goes on and on. The reality is that the traditional fixed edge has now been diffused into the cloud, workers' homes and other locations. One of the interesting aspects of the new diffused edge is that workloads, data and endpoints are not static. Users connect intermittently, containers can get spun up and deprecated after just a few minutes and information is constantly on the move. This requires a completely different type of network, one that is highly agile compared to today’s networks.
Recently, I had a chance to talk to Celona’s CEO and Co-Founder Rajeev Shah about the network architecture required to support the edgeless enterprise, and he highlighted three enabling technologies – software defined networking (SDN), automated policy and 5G microservices. The importance of SDN is obvious as the separation of control and data planes is critical to increasing network agility. If the control and data planes are tied together, configuration changes need to be done on a box-by-box basis. This is why the entire network industry has shifted to a software-define model.
Policy automation is also an obvious “must have” as network changes must be made much faster than before. Granular routing, QoS updates, security changes must be done in real time to keep up with application changes. This feature is particularly important for Celona as 5G has a feature called slicing where a single physical network can be carved up into multiple, virtual tenants or “slices.” Automation is important to apply policies across the various slices simultaneously.
Containers are important for the edge
Lastly is micro-services, which are mandated as part of the 5G specifications. In this case, network infrastructure is built on cloud-native principles. While there are a lot of vendors touting the term “cloud networking,” most provide cloud management with infrastructure software still being monolithic in design. While the vendors may have followed SDN principles, which is an incremental improvement on the path to agility, a true cloud-native approach using micro-services is needed to deliver on the vision of an intent-based network.
With the edge, workloads become very ephemeral and are spun up and down as needed. This means network and security services will need to be applied at container-like speed. The only way this happens is if the network OS is built on containers. This modernizes the network, speeds up the delivery of new features and services, takes agility to the next level and will eventually deliver AI driven intent-based networking.
While Celona is touting cloud-native networking at the edge, it isn't alone in this vision. Start up, DriveNets is also taking this approach but applying it to the carrier core. Then there are a few vendors such as Alkira and Aviatrix that are using cloud-native design to change the WAN. Each domain is sufficiently unique that there won’t be much overlap, at least in the near term.
The edge is certainly all the rage today, but the explosion of edge has led us down the path where businesses are now edgeless as the edge is everywhere. This has many benefits as apps and data are moved much closer to the network but mandates that networks must evolve. It’s great to see startups, like Celona, embracing cloud-native principles into the network, and that will pull the rest of the industry in that direction.
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long-term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to end-user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers. He can be reached at [email protected], and follow him @zkerravala and on YouTube.
Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.