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The Edge

Why a next-gen metro and edge network is critical

The expectations associated with residential bandwidth have changed, likely irreversibly – and network operators are faced with an altered landscape. The home has quickly become not only a multimedia branch office, but a learning and education center, bringing with it new network performance, security and availability requirements. This evolution, born of necessity, has led to the emergence of the next-generation metro and edge network.

Usage has surged with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with research estimating an increase in traffic across home broadband by between 20% to 40% since the pandemic pumped the brakes on the economy and made remote learning, commerce, entertainment and, particularly, teleworking mainstream. Previously, we could count on one hand the applications we might need at any one time, primarily related to entertainment purposes such as streaming video and gaming or low-rate communications such as email, text and web-browsing.

We might now have multiple people playing, learning and working from home, resulting in multiple simultaneously connected devices. And these devices don't just need high-speed connectivity to operate – their applications also require lower latency and increased security and availability. This is likely to be the new normal in some form even after the pandemic subsides. A recent survey from McKinsey found that 38% of respondents across all sectors expect remote employees to work two or more days a week away from the office after the pandemic, compared to 22% before it.

The traditional approach of building separate access and aggregation networks for different service types (e.g., business, residential, mobile) allowed network operators to cater to specific use cases. The business user would achieve lower latency with business-dedicated networks and exclusive access to on-premise compute power, for instance, while residential networks would be catered to, even once streaming services took mainstream hold, with caching at the edge for various video streaming services, such as Netflix.

We're now accessing business applications and cloud-based services over residential networks that require lower latency to function optimally, yet we're further away from core data center assets. A recent Dynata survey found that 65% of US business professionals consider the cloud to be critical to carrying out their jobs. But home networks are falling short: 40% of professionals plan to upgrade their residential broadband service to cope with the increased network demands of working from home.

Meanwhile, business networks are experiencing much different usage patterns, and we're also augmenting our reliance on mobile networks to add even more residential Wi-Fi because we're at home more.

Mobile 4G/5G, business and residential services are increasingly converging over common infrastructure requiring similar speeds, security and availability as we move more permanently into a more flexible work-from-anywhere era. This is an opportunity for network providers to reduce the cost of their networks by converging and automating multiple networks serving several segments.

This evolving next-generation metro and edge network provides compute and storage capabilities closer to end users, humans and machines, where content is created and consumed. It relies on data-driven automation and intelligence coupled with an open architecture to adapt to demands as they arise, self-heal and provide the connectivity required for this new era.

This is not just an evolution to cater to today's needs; it's one that is preparing the networks of today to adapt to the rise in working, playing and learning from home.

So what's the recipe for the next-gen metro and edge network?

First, we need convergence – not just of business, mobile and residential networks – but multilayer convergence in which IP and Ethernet are integrated over an optimized optical layer. With this comes reduced hardware and lower costs for the network provider.

It also needs to be built from disaggregated components, which can be used together or independently as required, with optimized routing essential – a specific focus on the future – along with end-to-end, closed-loop automation leveraging advanced analytics and intelligence.

We also need a network that leverages open APIs and network interfaces with an emphasis on interoperability and performance telemetry. When combined with best-in-class analytics across the multilayer infrastructure, real-time network virtualization capabilities natively within the solution are possible. This further reduces operational costs, minimizes hardware dependencies and ensures faster updates and upgrades.

This may seem like a lot of work on paper, but thankfully it's certainly achievable with the right partners in place.

But more than that, it's imperative that we build the network not just for today's needs or tomorrow's potential, but in a way that can be leveraged well into the future.

It's clear that the status quo for metro and edge architectures won't move us toward a more efficient, less complex and more profitable service delivery model. Something must change. Networks must evolve for the sake of how we work and for the sake of network providers, who are facing an inflection point with the services they provide and how they're delivered to end users. If network providers can do this with today, tomorrow and beyond in mind, we'll all benefit, regardless of where we work, play or learn.

— Stephen Alexander, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Ciena

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