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There's a lot of stuff happening at the network edge, and it's worth watching closely

September 25, 2014

2 Min Read
Feeling Edgy? Join the Crowd

In case you haven't noticed, the edge of the network is where everything is happening today.

It's where virtualized network functions are showing up first, it's where data and content are increasingly stored and it's where many types of service providers are making new investments.

That was a point driven home repeatedly at yesterday's Brocade Investor Day at the Nasdaq Exchange in New York by one of the companies making its own big splash in virtualization. But it's also something I increasingly hear from a wide range of service providers, most recently colo and interconnection data center operator Cologix .

As I explain on our sister site, The New IP, Cologix is a company investing heavily at the edge because it sees tremendous growth, especially in smaller markets. The heavy concentration of network interconnection points in a few major cities is changing, as it makes more sense to push bandwidth-intensive content, apps and data closer to the end-user and to keep traffic local whenever possible. (See The New IP Breeds a New Brand of Data Center.)

The point repeatedly made by Kelly Herrell, VP & GM of software networking for Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), to the Wall Street crowd is that virtualization will happen for network operators first at the edge of their networks -- and in this case, he means the very edge, often the customer premises.

That's where telecom service providers have been forced in recent years to deploy a variety of highly specialized boxes for things such as WAN optimization, security, load balancing and more, in addition to basic routing.

All that gear requires maintenance, upgrades and support, much of which can't be done remotely, which adds the cost of truck rolls and technician time.

But as Herrell pointed out, these specialized boxes serve as "boat anchors" to innovation, preventing network operators from upgrading their service architecture to achieve the flexibility and agility they need. Thus, that pain point becomes the logical place to begin deploying virtualized network functions -- software-based systems on x86 boxes that can not only be more cost-effectively operated and more easily scaled but also replaced and upgraded on demand.

In conversations following his presentation, Herrell hesitated -- with good reason -- to be drawn into the debate over which functions will be virtualized within the service provider's edge and which ones will sit on the customer premises. Those are choices and decisions the network operators themselves will have to made as part of the ongoing debate over centralized NFV versus distributed NFV.

The point is to get to a software-based approach sooner rather than later, so that a service provider has options for deployment, something they don't have today.

And at the edge of the network, in particular, choice is good because change is coming.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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