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Why Do Routers Matter in Edge Data Centers

By: Alan Seal on March 4, 2019

Data centers are an essential element of the internet’s infrastructure. In the sprawling data networks that deliver content and services around the world, these facilities serve as relay stations, processing centers, and warehouses. Although this infrastructure is incredibly complex, none of it would be possible without a fairly old-fashioned piece of computing hardware: routers. Even in the new generation of facilities like edge data centers, routers play an important role in connecting network services to end users.

What is an Edge Data Center?

Typically located close to end users in emerging markets, edge data centers play a major role in extending the reach of cloud networks and facilitating edge computing strategies. Built for speed, these facilities excel at delivering services with low latency and high levels of uptime. They tend to have a smaller overall footprint than data centers located in tier-1 markets, and as such they don’t typically have the high power demands of hyperscale facilities devoted to intensive cloud computing applications.

Edge data centers are most commonly utilized to deliver cached streaming content to local markets and facilitate edge computing networks that incorporate IoT devices. Versatile and connectivity-rich, these facilities are becoming a common element of the multi-data center strategies used by companies with diverse infrastructure needs.

Given their unique role in edge computing deployments, routers play a particularly important role in edge data centers. When comparing these facilities, customers should pay close attention to the capabilities of their routers.

Core Routers vs Edge Routers

Routers are, fundamentally, quite simple devices. They essentially guide data traffic over a computer network, reading the network address information on incoming data packets and “routing” them to the proper destination. Depending on the nature of that data and the complexity of the networks involved, there are many different types of routers that might be utilized in a particular situation. The two most important for the purposes of edge data centers are core routers and edge routers.

Core routers are responsible for directing data traffic within a network. They are designed with high-speed interfaces to forward traffic through the network as quickly as possible. Since they are handling data packets that are already supposed to be within the network and can only go to so many destinations, core routers can be optimized for high bandwidth and speed.

Edge routers, on the other hand, have to serve a broader array of functions. They are the gateway connecting the local network to the external, wide area network (WAN). All data packets coming into a network must go through the edge router (sometimes called the access router). Since the inbound data is coming from a wider array of sources, this router needs to be able to filter, queue, and police everything before it can be directed to the network’s core routers.

An edge router is ultimately responsible for the security of the network. It is the first point of contact with the outside world, making it an ideal location for firewall systems that screen out dangerous content and unauthorized access requests.

Edge Routers in Edge Data Centers

Since edge data centers are designed to interface with external devices and users, the role of edge routers is incredibly important. They are the point in a data center environment where all customer and device connections enter and leave the internal network. High availability and redundancy are critical because these routers are potential choke points for all traffic.

Multi-tenant data centers have a wide array of data packets flowing into the facility, so edge routers need to be able to process multiple types of routing protocols. This is even more important in an edge data center, where huge amounts of data from IoT devices are flowing into the network to be sorted for processing or transfer to another data center. Some of these devices even function as extensions of a network, which can put a great deal of strain on edge routers that are effectively being asked to serve as core routers.

For all of these reasons, edge data centers need to be equipped with powerful and versatile edge routers that can handle the increased volume of incoming traffic with minimal latency. They also need to feature more redundancy than one might find in a traditional data center because a failed router could result in significant downtime.

Routers play a crucial role in network infrastructure, but they’re often taken for granted due to their ubiquity. When implementing an edge computing architecture that incorporates an edge data center, it’s important to consider the facility’s router quality. A facility without adequate routing capabilities could find itself buckling under the demands of edge computing. With the right routing equipment in place, however, edge data centers can deliver versatile, low latency service without compromising security.

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