If you stop and think, a lot of our expectations about network services are really about personality\u2014our own.\u00a0 We\u2019d like our services to work, well, the way we work.\u00a0 We\u2019d like them to know us, to tune to our needs, right?\u00a0 Do you think that some giant global interconnect with hundreds of thousands of elements is going to be able to do that?\u00a0 Nope, which means personalized services will have to come down to the only piece we really own\u2014the lowly network edge.\nWe learned decades ago that you can\u2019t make giant networks user- or service-aware.\u00a0 Awareness of this sort, which is known as \u201cstatefulness\u201d in network-speak, means sticking little pieces of a virtual-you into the network to represent your interests. Maybe these pieces are an entry in a routing table, or maybe they\u2019re a policy stored in some repository and sent to the devices that handle your traffic, but they\u2019re individualized if what they\u2019re doing is to personalize.\u00a0 That just doesn\u2019t scale.\u00a0 Not only are there too many little pieces, network traffic could get reconfigured or a device could fail, and all at once your personalizing pieces aren\u2019t even where your traffic is going.\n\nEnter the edge device.\u00a0 It\u2019s easy to ignore the box that terminates your service, to maybe sit a cup of coffee on it or cover it in clutter.\u00a0 Give it some respect instead.\u00a0 The nice thing about an edge device in the network is that it\u2019s dedicated to you.\u00a0 If there\u2019s anywhere in that giant global interconnect that could be expected to know anything about you, that little terminating box is it, and that personalization potential makes it very valuable indeed.\nYou\u2019d think that since we\u2019ve had service terminations for as long as we\u2019ve had services, people would have figured out that the edge is important in personalizing services, but somehow that seems to get missed.\u00a0 Two things have come along to change that.\u00a0 First, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), which provides users with small-site VPN on-ramp connections using the internet.\u00a0 Second, the latest grand and mysterious invention of the analyst community, the secure access service edge (SASE).\nSD-WAN personalizes service at the edge\nSD-WAN is exploding in popularity; my own research says that there are almost three times as many sites on SD-WANs today as there were a year ago.\u00a0 There are probably 50 vendors and dozens of communications and managed-service providers who offer SD-WAN, and with that kind of competition, it\u2019s not surprising that competition is driving everyone to invent new features for it.\u00a0 Today, supporting small sites and even applications in the cloud is table stakes.\u00a0 Work-from-home, service telemetry, application prioritization, and even zero-trust security are now being added.\nThe reason this feature-enhancing process is relatively easy for SD-WAN vendors\/providers and hard for network service providers and the internet is the edge personalization mentioned above.\u00a0 If you have an SD-WAN, you have an on-ramp to a virtual network located where the users are, the edge.\u00a0 That on-ramp can do just about everything that\u2019s practical to personalize your service relationships, to make your service look like it was designed for you, because it\u2019s yours, virtually speaking.\nWe can\u2019t personalize our vast network to reflect our application priorities, but maybe we don\u2019t have to.\u00a0 Capacity is most limited and most expensive at the point of user connection. SD-WAN can enforce application-traffic prioritization at the edge--the critical point of congestion. That\u2019s probably the biggest step you could take toward QoS, but SD-WAN could also tag traffic by priority or send it along a different route.\u00a0 All that\u2019s needed is a standard way of identifying priorities, one that both the SD-WAN and the network would support, and we\u2019d have end-to-end QoS.\nThat\u2019s not all. Any virtual network offers a degree of intrinsic security, and some SD-WANs offer session-aware zero-trust security.\u00a0 Add intrinsic security with some intrinsic access-point prioritization and QoS classification, and you create something that\u2019s hard to match without SD-WAN, and that might mean that SD-WAN could displace the SASE concept rather than fulfilling it.\u00a0 (That may be why AT&T just announced it was using the Fortinet stack for \u201cmanaged SASE\u201d; Fortinet includes SD-WAN.)\nSD-WAN: Smart gateway to a dumb network\nSD-WAN is now the anchor concept at the edge, the gateway to new service features. This shift in edge thinking, if it\u2019s as real as it now seems to be, could be really profound. It doesn\u2019t say that networks don\u2019t matter, but that all they can be expected to do is convey experiences that are created at the edge.\u00a0 Is the best network one that\u2019s invisible and costs nothing?\u00a0 There\u2019s more truth to that than might appear.\nShifting the features of services to a device on the premises, makes those features something that many vendors could sell.\u00a0 It could promote managed services, both to exploit the benefits of a smart edge device to look after SLAs and to offer operators an opportunity to sell something with a higher profit margin.\u00a0 That would make the service market more competitive.\u00a0 It could make the internet, which is the true universal network, into the only network, and focus \u201cnetwork\u201d technology on managing costs.\u00a0 The smart edge enables a dumb network.\nSD-WAN as a service\nNetwork operators are going to have to respond to this new edge-centric vision, and managed services seems to be the only thing they can really do.\u00a0 If services become more personalized, then every network user is almost a private network, and supporting this could be more than many companies could hope to handle.\u00a0 SD-WAN\u2019s embedded management tools could provide the operators with a way to get some management economy of scale and let them offer a managed service at a price users would pay.\u00a0 And still, of course, earn operators a tidy new profit.\nIf you think that enterprises won\u2019t accept managed service, look to the cloud.\u00a0 We\u2019re already seeing that cloud-computing services are shifting more toward managed services, because that\u2019s what users want. It\u2019s not helpful to have a wonderful low-touch managed-cloud service sitting on top of a high-touch network service, and even the cloud providers are said to be working on their own SD-WAN and managed service strategy.\nThe edge is not only your friend, it may be your best friend.\u00a0 Next time you see your edge device, wipe off a bit of the coffee stains and tidy up its workplace.\u00a0 It\u2019s your on-ramp to the future of network services.