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Trends Driving Innovations in Next-Generation Retail Networking

By Amit Thakkar, Senior Director, Product Management, Marvell

The retail segment of the global economy has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdowns shuttered stores for extended periods, while social distancing measures significantly impacted foot traffic in these spaces. Now, as consumer demand has shifted rapidly from physical to virtual stores, the sector is looking to reinvent itself and apply lessons learned from the pandemic. One important piece of knowledge that has surfaced across the retail industry: Investing in critical data infrastructure is a must in order to rapidly accommodate changes in consumption patterns.

Consumers have become much more conscious of the digital experience and, as such, prefer a seamless transition in shopping experiences across both virtual and brick-and-mortar stores. Retailers are revisiting investment in network infrastructure to ensure that the network is “future-proofed” to withstand consumer demand swings. It will be critical to offer new customer-focused, personalized experiences such as cashier-less stores and smart shopping in a manner that is secure, resilient, and high performance. Infrastructure companies will need to be able to bring a complete set of technology options to meet the digital transformation needs of the modern distributed enterprise.

Highlighted below are five emerging technology trends in enterprise networking that are driving innovations in the retail industry to build the modern store experience.

1. The borderless enterprise is here and brings new requirements. As mobility and cloud applications extend the boundaries of the traditional campus environment, deployments at the access and edge will continue to grow. This is spurring the need for technological advances across silicon and software that can bring automated and personalized experiences across the smart edge and retail networking. The borderless enterprise requires optimized data processing at or near the network access edge, flexibility and innovative features to support ubiquitous connectivity as well as autonomous networking.

2. Multi-gigabit network technology is fundamental to next-generation network infrastructure. As consumer devices transition to multi-gigabit wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi 6/6E, the wired infrastructure in retail stores needs to be comparably equipped with high-speed 2.5/5GbE networks. Multi-gigabit offerings are key for helping IT administrators upgrade their network as they grow overall retail demand, especially solutions with multiple design points available for all types of enterprises, locations and end devices.

3. Disaggregation is enabling the build-out of retail networks, offers more choices of technology and lowers the total cost of ownership. Solutions that can support disaggregation—among network hardware and software operating systems—are helping realize the vision of next-generation networks. 

4. Dent, the first open-source, Linux-based distributed enterprise networking operating system is helping enable smart, engaging shopping experiences. Traditional enterprise network operating systems deployed in retail network switches are closed monolithic systems that lock customers into proprietary architectures. Dent has advanced Linux networking by delivering a comprehensive set of technologies that are natively supported in Linux, enabling the transition to disaggregated networking for enterprise use cases. Dent offers a powerful solution for the distributed enterprise edge by unleashing the benefits of open-source software technology and native Linux networking.

5. Visibility, performance, intelligence and security are critical technology pillars for next-generation retail networks. Today’s enterprise IT organizations are tasked with delivering a seamless experience to digitally conscious consumers — with zero-downtime, higher bandwidth performance for video and content sharing, and data protection and security. Technologies that can cater to the modern retail experience will win out.     

Optimized for the Borderless Enterprise and Retail Networking

Marvell offers a complete networking portfolio that is optimized for the borderless enterprise and is designed with technology features and software to build infrastructure for next-generation retail networking.

The Marvell® Prestera® 2K, 3K, and 4K line of access switches enable autonomous networking that is future-ready. To support ubiquitous connectivity that is paramount for a successful touchless or seamless online shopping experience, the switch portfolio offers rich data path and overlay technologies. In addition, connectivity technologies are augmented with fine-grained telemetry and application-aware flow management powered by Marvell switch software.

The high number of sensors and cameras typically used for store automation require larger forwarding table resources from the switch, as well as Power over Ethernet integration, to drive power to connected IoT devices. A rich feature set offers a secure, unified, high performance fabric for in-store IoT devices, sensors, cameras, network-connected shopping carts, card readers, electronic shelf labels, and end user client devices.

Enhanced visibility tools such as Marvell’s TrackIQ software allow tracking of flows to detect security vulnerabilities and network anomalies and protect devices connected to the store network. Anomaly detection on traffic patterns can help identify malicious devices. Prestera switches with on-chip compute can stream relevant flow information that can be processed by remote AI engines. Confidentiality of sensitive data can be maintained end-to-end by enabling data encryption using MACsec technology on Marvell switches. Dent operating software and software innovations on Marvell silicon provide a smart networking engine to build an autonomous networking fabric in retail environments.

Dent’s switchdev technology is a Linux kernel infrastructure layer that allows offloading of the kernel’s forwarding data plane to the switch ASIC. To meet the connectivity, security and automation needs of the modern enterprise, the switchdev technology also provides offloads to the silicon data path and networking protocols in the user space. Because of these advancements, Dent is one of the foundational pillars enabling cashier-less stores, driving to a whole new level of effortless in-store retail experiences. Marvell has a strong ecosystem of partners that provides white box switch solutions with the open-source Dent network operating system to bring a complete disaggregated network experience in the borderless enterprise.

Advanced switch technology from Marvell has the silicon integration required to automate, secure, and operationalize retail networks of the future at scale, with deep visibility and at high performance. In addition, a uniform silicon portfolio across access, aggregation and core layers of the network fabric provides a consistent operational experience for insightful telemetry, flow-aware intelligence, troubleshooting and service assurance. These technologies are paving the way for a new era in retail — one that is revolutionizing data infrastructure and the consumer shopping experience itself. 

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