The redefinition of the network edge has become a driving force for change in the enterprise network. That edge was already expanding before the pandemic triggered the mass shift to remote working. The number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, for example, has been doubling every five years, according to Gartner.

In fact, the research firm predicts that more than 15 billion IoT devices will be connected to enterprise infrastructure globally by 2029.

This growth is fueled by maturing IoT and related technologies, with organizations across many sectors seizing opportunities to innovate with new applications that drive efficiency and growth. Manufacturers, for example, are using intelligent edge devices and cloud-based systems to merge operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) to create more flexible and efficient production facilities.

As we saw in our previous blog post in this series on how to modernize your enterprise network, the edge is being further extended with the long-term shift to a hybrid workforce. As a result, the enterprise network now needs to support employees working from home, the office, or anywhere in between.

Offices also need to be more flexible to cater for the hybrid workforce. Organizations are turning to smart edge technologies to provide new systems for buildings, such as occupancy management and safety monitoring applications.

Connecting the extended enterprise

These innovative applications have resulted in the rapid adoption of smart edge devices, ranging from employees’ mobile devices to networked cameras for security and production monitoring, and connected sensors that enable OT process automation.

Connecting these devices raises a host of new challenges, such as providing connectivity to ensure adequate and persistent wired and wireless network coverage in the most challenging environments such as mines, refineries, and factory floors.

Those environments demand substantial changes to the way your devices are rolled out and managed. After all, you can no longer depend on the availability of clean, cool, and power-conditioned data-center space. You need IT and network infrastructure that’s resilient to the extremes of the real world — such as heat, cold, rain, dust, and wind—and certified to perform in hazardous industrial environments to ensure business continuity.

Securing the network edge

The complexity of new enterprise architectures will drive enterprises to invest heavily in the security of the network edge. IDC, for example, predicts that more than 90 percent of operational processes will be deployed on edge infrastructure by 2024 — up from 20 percent now.

Increasing connectivity to the network edge dramatically reshapes the enterprise security profile, increasing the necessity to manage edge devices and services wherever they are located.

The diversity of devices means that consistent security policies are critical, and this requires the ability to identify, locate, and set policy across devices in a consistent manner.

Modern network architectures automate this process using frameworks such as secure access secure edge (SASE). These combine software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) with virtual private networks (VPNs) and cloud-native security functions, including secure web gateways, cloud access security brokers, firewalls, and zero-trust network access.

By embracing IoT-aware network security architectures, you can simplify and enhance network security, gaining greater visibility into a diverse range of IoT devices.

This visibility, backed by better access to operational and configuration data, ensures you will be able to access a broad range of operational insights into your network — including performance and configuration issues, as well as security incidents.

Automating the extended enterprise

While new infrastructure provides the integration required to support your rollout of intelligent edge devices, you need the tools to manage those devices and infrastructure. Analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) technologies enable a range of powerful management capabilities to keep your enterprise running smoothly and securely.

Collection and analysis of data from IT and OT equipment ensure end-to-end visibility across every part of the enterprise. After all, there’s no point in implementing a network management architecture that only covers half of your enterprise.

Automation takes this a step further by continuously gathering data about how the network is performing, and any unexpected interruptions that may arise along the way. AI and ML capabilities ensure the health, performance, and reliability of your applications and infrastructure is always optimized according to changing operational conditions.

And by integrating AI and ML capabilities with SD-WAN and other software-based controls, you can embed automation into your network operations — an approach known as AIOps.

A full-stack solution for the intelligent edge

Traditional, centralized network architectures leave edge devices exposed, reliant on old support and management methods that cannot be applied consistently across the enterprise network.

Cisco’s Catalyst Full Stack powered by Cisco DNA Software solves this problem because it was designed from the ground up with the extended enterprise in mind. It provides infrastructure and software that address the three key challenges of today’s enterprise network.

  • Connectivity. Catalyst Full Stack devices have been designed to provide the pervasive connectivity needed to ensure that people and IoT devices can connect from anywhere, easily and reliably, regardless of the operating environment. Our devices also provide the resilience required for the network edge, with fanless, self-cooled operation as well as resistance from shock and vibration, and a high mean time between failures. Their size, weight, and form factors suit remote installations in difficult environments—delivering connectivity where it’s needed, wherever it’s needed.
  • Security. Our Catalyst Full Stack solution protects devices with consistent identity and policy frameworks that maintain security for IoT devices. It supports SD-WAN, SASE, and other cloud-native security functions to easily secure the enterprise network right to the edge.
  • Automation. Catalyst Full Stack combines end-to-end visibility and control of edge devices with powerful centralized reporting and management tools across the IT and OT of the entire enterprise to scale repeatable operations. It supports AIOps by using AI to extract analytics and insights to automate network operations and maximize network uptime and business resilience.

Most importantly, Catalyst Full Stack can function as one unified, integrated environment, whether at the enterprise headquarters, across campuses, production facilities, or anywhere else.

To learn how Cisco can help you reimagine your enterprise network,
see our introduction to the

Secure Agile Networks Powered by Cisco Catalyst Full Stack