Taking connectivity to the edge of innovation

Given the rising importance of the edge, enterprises are now grappling with establishing fast and secure edge connectivity. As more data gets collected at the edge, enterprises must find ways to collect and use this valuable data in a meaningful way.

Most enterprises today have embarked on digital transformation, and think of it in terms of the five big components of cloud, data, mobility, IoT, and AI/ML. Underlying all this, however, is the all-important, oft-neglected foundation for successful digital transformation: network connectivity.

Without reliable, secure and robust connectivity, all other aspects of digital transformation would be hampered. Cloud and mobility render traditional wired connections insufficient, while recurring themes of the next-generation enterprise, such as the future of work, IoT and smart cities, demand ubiquitous connectivity at the edge.

Given the rising importance of the edge, enterprises are now grappling with establishing fast and secure edge connectivity. As more data gets collected at the edge, enterprises must find ways to collect and use this valuable data in a meaningful way.

To do this, many enterprises are now engaging trusted partners like Aruba, who specialize in connectivity at the edge and provide innovative solutions that integrate digital transformation at the network level.

From wired to wireless, from wireless to the edge

In less than two decades, enterprise technology has seen a rapid evolution from wired to wireless. Wireless is now being taken far from the core to remote locations at the edge.

When Aruba started eighteen years ago, enterprises were reluctant to use Wi-Fi because of its lack of speed and latency, and the security risks it presented. The company sought to address these issues, and designed its first Wi-Fi solutions based on the industry’s needs.

Says Justin Chiah, Senior Director, South East Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong (SEATH) at Aruba, “When we started out 18 years ago, mobility was in its infancy and Wi-Fi was seen as insecure and slow. Many IT teams were not well-skilled in terms of understanding Wi-Fi. First, we had to make sure that our solutions were secure — even more secure than through the wired component. This was done by making sure that all the traffic is brought into a stateful packet inspection firewall so that we could inspect the traffic. We made sure our solutions were simple, easy to adopt, and had centralized orchestration capabilities.”

Although Wi-Fi is now commonplace, the very concerns it once raised are now being discussed in the context of the edge. While speed and security can be addressed using new technologies such as Aruba’s range of switches and access points, edge computing presents a new set of challenges such as the need to track a large number of devices on multiple network types.

On top of that, unprecedented volumes of network data must be processed, stored and analyzed on the edge itself. As it stands today, IT spends 70% of its time troubleshooting, and this number will continue to rise unless processes are automated using tools such as Aruba AIOps, which can reduce mean time to issue resolution by up to 90%, and increase network capacity by as much as 25%.

Every organization is different

As the edge grows, so do organizations’ needs. For example, some enterprises might be further along the digital transformation journey than others, or, because of their size, require more complex solutions. Each organization’s approach to the edge must be in accordance with its needs, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Disparities between organizations are especially marked in the Asia-Pacific region, which sees not only organizations, but also nations, in different stages of technological development.

Explains Chiah, “The APAC environment is a very diverse region. It’s made up of some of the most modern and developed countries, for example Singapore and Malaysia, but also some of the more developing countries, and everything in between. At Aruba, we have segmented our approach with differentiated solutions. If it’s a small or medium business, for example, we have solutions that are priced accordingly, which might be a little simpler in nature so that it’s easier to install – we call it Aruba Instant On. We have solutions catered to different verticals such as hospitality, manufacturing, finance, governments, and even large public venues.”

The ability to understand the specific needs of one’s organization can be aided by close relationships with service providers who are willing to provide insight and expert advice when needed. Aruba’s Customer First, Customer Last policy, for example, has ensured that close partnerships remain at the forefront of the business. Governed by this overarching policy, Aruba has offered its clients a variety of solutions and operating models that can be adapted according to the business’s IT needs and business strategy.

Crafting an edge strategy

When crafting an IT strategy for the edge, there are four main considerations that enterprises should keep in mind.

1.       A unified network

The edge multiplies the number of devices that all connect to the network in different ways. This can often result in data silos, with various parts of the network completely segregated from others, collecting pools of unused data. For enterprises to effectively harness the edge, all these devices and connection types have to be unified in order to provide a bird’s eye view of the entire network. All wireless, wired, IoT, 5G and SD-WAN connections should be visible at any point in time.

2.       Automation

IT teams spend 70% of their time troubleshooting, and this situation will be exacerbated with the growing number of devices on the edge. This means IT resources will be drained, and maintaining the network will become an unmanageable, unproductive task. A good edge strategy will utilize the latest AI/ML tools that allow IT to focus on analyzing valuable data, rather than troubleshooting. Aruba’s AIOps, for example, can dynamically spot network anomalies and adjust transmit power levels across bands, resulting in an increase in network performance of over 15%, while freeing up time for IT operations to focus on more meaningful tasks.

3.       Security

With the proliferation of devices and access points, enterprises must be able to detect, authenticate and continuously monitor these devices, and be ready to address sophisticated security threats. The edge has disrupted traditional security approaches, and demands new security paradigms such as Aruba’s Zero Trust security model, which offers automated access privileges and network segmentation, along with the ability to create role-based policies.

4.       Agility & Flexibility

Cloud has ushered in a new age of agility and flexibility, and this model can also be applied to edge networks. Organizations should be able to scale their networks up and down according to their immediate needs, and budget accordingly, in the form of Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) models designed for the edge.

In order to reap the most of the edge, enterprises can adopt a single architecture that incorporates all these capabilities. Aruba’s Edge Services Platform (ESP), for example, is a cloud-native architecture that enables enterprises to control their entire edge on a unified infrastructure known as Aruba Central. This links data centers, campuses, and remote access points with the cloud, and gives enterprises complete control over the edge.

Chiah elaborates: “ESP is actually an architectural framework that allows customers to adopt it at any point on their journey to digital transformation. They could layer on Zero Trust networks to boost the security aspects of their networks, and later use AIOps as a way to help solve some of the operational complexities of running a network. It’s all based on an open ecosystem, in the sense that it doesn’t lock in the customer. There are open APIs that allow us to work with partners to enhance the value of the product.”

 How the edge has helped with COVID management

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of the edge, especially within the healthcare industry. Without edge capabilities, many critical testing and safety procedures would not have been possible.

For example, temporary COVID-related facilities, such as testing centres, have had to be set up in open spaces such as car parks. These facilities require additional networking infrastructure in order to ensure proper care is delivered. To address this issue, Aruba decided to extend its expertise globally to healthcare providers.

“We found out that many healthcare providers needed to create triage centers, where they could do testing of potential COVID infection areas,” reveals Chiah. And often, those overflowed into large open compounds, car parks, and other unused spaces. To help with this, Aruba donated $50 million worth of equipment in the form of security connectivity kits worldwide to healthcare providers across the globe, to be deployed at pop-up clinics, testing sites and temporary hospital facilities.

“In Southeast Asia in particular, we were pretty active in making sure that many of the hospitals received that help from Aruba, with outdoor wireless kits they could easily set up and use to extend their network. We also created something called Airheads Volunteer Corps, which is made up of customers, partners, and even Aruba employees, who volunteer their time to provide support and advice to healthcare providers who need them.”

The future of the edge

The edge has become an integral part of IT, with most organizations today implementing contact tracing and other safety protocols that can function only when there is edge connectivity. Beyond contact tracing, data from the edge can also be used to ensure workplace safety. For example, Aruba’s intelligent WLAN can provide data to help organizations with density-mapping, which can then be used for cleaning schedules and proper planning during these trying pandemic times.

COVID-19 has also forced organizations to operate on a hybrid workplace model, with some employees returning to the office and others working from home. This can be a costly affair, but solutions such as Aruba’s NaaS allows for corporate networks to be extended to employees’ homes without compromising on price or security.

Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), for example, is modernizing its wireless networks to support 4,000 employees daily, using Aruba WLAN solutions that will provide comprehensive and flexible Wi-Fi coverage for the 150,000-square-meter SPH campus spanning both Print and News Centers. Network modernization will create operational efficiencies and bolster security across thousands of users and devices from a single management pane, providing full visibility into the network. 

In other verticals such as manufacturing, edge computing has boosted productivity and efficiency, and will continue to do so as IoT and robotics become more ubiquitous.

Chiah concludes, “We’re seeing a lot of new developments happening across the globe in different verticals. In manufacturing, there are now many more automated production floors with AGVs and robotics capabilities, and they all depend on the infrastructure capabilities of the network. And our solution of providing unified, Zero Trust infrastructure and AI-based solutions can help them operate a state-of-the-art, Industry 4.0-type manufacturing environment.”

To find out more about the benefits of connectivity at the Edge, download Aruba’s “At the Edge of Change: Navigating the New Data Era” report here.