While the cloud continues to experience steady growth, most of the excitement in network management will be at the edge of the infrastructure in coming years. Gradual but increasing adoption of a new generation of data-rich applications will increase the demand for deployment of IT infrastructure closer to the end user by service providers and the enterprise.

Video game users want to play on mobile devices untethered from the consoles in their living rooms. One solution is to stream games from the cloud, but that requires fast, low-latency last-mile connections (5G promises to deliver that) and immense amounts of compute power next to the end user (it is impractical to send all data to a core data center hundreds of miles away). Other applications that generate huge amounts of disposable data that require very tight response times — like orchestration of self-driving vehicles, consumer AR/VR and other next-generation applications — create similar demands. Service providers are scrambling to deploy edge data centers to support those needs.

Enterprise IT will face similar challenges as businesses demand support for AR/VR for in-store, real-time advertisement and industrial IoT applications, for example. Another development that has been gaining popularity in recent years is the adoption of SD-WAN in branch office connectivity. This replaces traditional access routers and lowers costs while increasing security and flexibility by adopting network control from the cloud and leveraging commodity internet connections. However, it also adds more complexity to the branch office environment.

Left unchecked, these trends toward the edge will either negatively affect service availability, with more outages and downtime, or drastically increase operational costs by demanding more IT management personnel and frequent travel to remote locations. Network links and devices at the edge are intrinsically less reliable than those within a modern data center that guarantee 99.999% availability, a well-controlled environment, and multiple layers of redundancy. Users will continue to expect similar or better experiences regardless of where the infrastructure is deployed.

To ensure reliability at the edge, organizations must invest in solutions that allow them to remotely manage their hardware via a secure backup network, like cellular. Having a separate management plane solution in place creates a more resilient network by providing a secure safety net that allows organizations to access and manage their networks, even when an outage occurs. In addition to providing access when an issue arises, these solutions enable organizations to improve day-to-day operations at the edge by proactively monitoring for and anticipating issues, enabling the networking staff to preemptively recognize and ratify issues and avoid expensive truck rolls or 3 a.m. emergency calls.

As operations move their compute load from large data centers to edge locations, organizations must adjust their network management processes to continue delivering the always-on uptime that customers have come to expect. To do so, they must invest in hybrid solutions that leverage internet and cloud-based connectivity, as well as physical infrastructure, which will deliver the resilience that today’s networks require.