Given today’s shortage of IT resources, the demand for self-sufficient technology is becoming an industrywide rallying cry.
Frustrated by the limited scalability of software but not flush enough to throw money at their problems, enterprises are turning to edge appliances. In the edge appliance, companies are finding the easily managed, low-cost alternative they need.
Edge appliances — devices that offer specialized functionality at the edge of a network — were initially conceived of as hardware alternatives to running software on servers. The increasing complexity of today’s datacenter, however, has spurred edge-appliance vendors to push the concept further. Edge appliances now seek to accommodate ever-changing security requirements, the influx of XML data, and the emergence of a single network carrying voice, data, video, and even storage traffic. Customers have responded to the evolution of the edge appliance concept by increasing their demands for performance, ease-of-maintenance, and scalability.
Given their black-box design, edge appliances can be placed exactly where they are needed, allowing them to tackle a wide range of enterprise issues, including security access, performance enhancement, and traffic and storage management. Edge appliances are often specialized to perform a single function, making them easy to manage. Because they use ASICs, they perform better than software run on general-purpose CPUs.
The trick is to figure out how much an edge appliance can handle before it becomes more of a server than an appliance. Edge-appliance vendors must walk the fine line between simplicity and functionality when gearing their wares to fit customer needs. Adding intelligence is a future goal for many vendors, but they must be careful not to make their appliances too complex, thereby undercutting a key customer value.
Scot Klimke, CIO of Network Appliance, notes that the rise of edge appliances was natural, given software's limitations in solving problems such as load balancing, firewall maintenance, and caching. According to Klimke, when an enterprise datacenter grows beyond a certain threshold, software is overburdened and performance sags under the load.
But where software comes up short, edge appliances continue to evolve to handle more types of functions -- and enterprises have noticed, says Klimke. “The appliances are getting cheaper, and easier to manage and deploy. They are like Cisco routers for the masses. They can be used and run without a Ph.D. in computer science.”
Speed, performance, and management
For many enterprises, the greatest benefit of edge appliances is the enhancement of performance and security. Both functions are critical building blocks for the enterprise, but they often require two things currently in short supply: money and expertise. Dropping an appliance at the network edge puts the specific technology in place where it’s needed most.
Because edge appliances can be placed where vulnerabilities first come to light, security is the hottest market in the edge appliance space. Indeed, 54 percent of InfoWorld CTO Network Survey respondents say a security appliance would be their first choice if buying an edge appliance today.