(Editor’s note: This article previously appeared on Forbes.)
We hear a great deal about the cloud, as we should. Worldwide spending on public cloud services and infrastructure is forecast to reach $266 billion in 2021, according to IDC, and the research firm predicts that in the US alone spending on the public cloud will reach $163 billion in that timeframe.
We hear a great deal less about the edge of the cloud.
That’s a little strange. The edge is what makes the cloud work. Without a functioning edge, there isn’t any cloud access; your applications are more vulnerable to attack; and you can’t reach your customers, employees, devices, and partners. If the edge isn’t working properly, it doesn’t matter what your uptime is in the cloud, how much storage you have, or how many processors you’re running—because no one can get to them. As much as 50% of what we think of as cloud performance doesn’t have much to do with the cloud at all. It’s determined by the edge.
Life on the Edge
The edge is a busy place. It’s where all of your users connect to the internet, and then to your data and applications (web, mobile, machine-to-machine). It’s where the Internet of Things (IoT) gets deployed. It’s where the shift to the cloud is enabled. And it’s the gateway through which attackers can target your business.
The edge is only getting busier, thanks to some of the most interesting and talked-about trends in tech. Think about the growing ubiquity of the IoT. The increasing mobility of workers. The desire to build richer interfaces for supply chain partners. The necessity of reaching customers through a compelling digital experience. All this is governed by the edge.
So it should come as no surprise that the edge needs to be actively managed. A fully developed edge is the home of six key services: networking, security, name resolution, traffic steering, distributed content, and messaging. Well-managed edge services are constantly monitoring the endpoint where users access either applications or websites. If the first-choice endpoint is not available, traffic can be redirected to another site with better availability.
Load balancing works similarly: if too much traffic is coming to a particular site, delaying access or slowing it down, that traffic can be shifted to a site that’s working more efficiently. Edge services are also the primary method for protecting origin endpoints for your applications or APIs. By pushing out content and web termination deep into the edge network, you can speed up applications and protect them from abusive traffic and attacks.
These capabilities can be used to produce several important results. For many enterprises, three quickly rise to the top: the ability to deliver superior availability, improved security, and optimal performance.
Availability, Security, and Performance
Availability is of particular concern as it relates to internal applications. When core applications are moved to the cloud, IT leaders have every reason to expect that employees will be able to access those applications just as easily as they could before the move. No one should have to worry that a move to the cloud should cause employees to become less productive. Not only can edge services be used to make a cloud migration easier—by using load balancing to make the transition in phases—but edge services can also ensure that workers’ access to applications remains unfettered long after the transition is complete.
Performance is a particular challenge for e-commerce, ad tech, and media companies. They know customers will leave them out of sheer frustration if their sites don’t perform well. On average, says Aberdeen Group, a one-second delay in page load performance leads to an 11% decrease in page views and a 7% decrease in conversions.
Then, of course, there’s security. IT leaders considering cloud migrations are understandably concerned about handing over any responsibility for security to a third party. But security doesn’t begin in the cloud. It’s at the edge that people, packets, and permissions all come together, which is why a well-managed edge is so critical.
The edge is where you’ll deploy firewalls, conduct attack mitigation, and perform the DNS lookup that determines where traffic should flow. An intelligent edge also allows more data to be processed locally, without traversing the entire network. So while the edge is the primary threat window for attacks, an intelligent edge can also boost enterprise security—and help just about every IT leader sleep better at night.