Balancing the benefits of edge computing with the risks
The race to the edge is on. By 2022, there will be an estimated 55 billion edge devices on the market. By 2025, this is expected to grow to 150 billion; even more when you take into account the impact of remote working practices in the COVID era. But not everyone is an advocate.
Despite being a relatively new technology term, edge computing has already established itself. It has not taken long for businesses to understand the benefits of locating their compute services right where applications are running. Speed is the obvious one. Software works faster (and so can do more) when it does not have to reach back to a data center located hundreds, even thousands, of miles away.
For businesses where milliseconds matter—think high-frequency financial trading, automated vehicles and equipment safety monitoring—every extra hop makes a profound difference. Even where latency is more preferable than mission-critical—content streaming, manufacturing, smart utilities—today’s users expect lightning reaction times and inexhaustible capabilities from their applications.
The race to the edge is on. By 2022, there will be an estimated 55 billion edge devices on the market. By 2025, this is expected to grow to 150 billion; even more when you take into account the impact of remote working practices in the COVID era. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from IoT sensors to Internet routers; wearable tech to factory floor robots.
But not everyone is an advocate. For years, businesses have been taught that IT security is about centralizing operations. Anything at the edge feels intuitively risky. More devices means a larger attack surface; and though each may be mini-environments, none are isolated. At some point they will need to send data and information back to their data centers, and vice-versa. That means nodes and connections, and that creates openings to exploit.
So how do businesses reconcile these risks of edge computing with the irrefutable benefits? The answer is to approach security as part of a holistic edge strategy, and not in opposition to it. In other words, bake security into your architecture from the start, and the edge is merely an extension of your environment; as secure and resilient as the centre. Security that enables, rather than compromises.
Two things matter—the systems you run at the edge; and the network that connects them together, and to your core systems. Consistency is key to both. Standard security protocols and processes make everything easier to manage, and so safer. But the best edge devices tend to be built with a very specific task in mind, and so often come from multiple vendors. Deploying them is eclecticism by design, the opposite of standardisation.
Step forward the hybrid cloud, to serve as the common platform on which to build your edge stack as an extension of your core infrastructure. It is here where security standards are set; OS security, ID and access controls, vulnerability management and data encryption, to name a few. And all consistent with the container and Kubernetes toolkits employed to maintain innovation at the edge.
Next comes securing the network. Increasingly businesses are using third-party SD-WAN technology to manage their expanding networks. They should offload their network security to these Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) experts, who are building increasingly sophisticated SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) solutions. SASE tackles edge security at scale by integrating SD-WAN and security into a cloud service, in partnership with various security vendors. It debunks the misconception that edge computing means relinquishing central control, instead allowing security teams to look across their entire network from a single pane of glass. From this central console every aspect of security policy, threat prevention and attack remediation can be defined, monitored and executed. Consistency is coupled with automation to enhance a posture further. It transforms edge security from a dislocated, perimeter activity to a core tenet of a strategy.
Businesses should see these two aspects—the secure hybrid cloud and the secure network—as parallel priorities, and choose partners for each that can work effectively together. Get that right, and there’s no limit to how far and wide the edge can go.