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SDN to support Internet of Things devices

SDN deployment will enable Internet of Things devices to share network resources efficiently and reliably, and further cut hardware investment, but the possibilities are still emerging.

Software-defined networking will meet the Internet of Things (IoT) at the crossroads of VPN exhaustion, uptime challenges and limited network resources. The expected result is that SDN will help drive the expansion of IoT-enabled devices, enable more efficient network resource sharing and improve IoT service-level agreements (SLAs). In return, many vendors expect IoT will support SDN decisions and feed hungry policy engines.

It's still early days in terms of looking for use cases for SDN and IoT, however.

"The impact that Internet of Things devices will have on networks is just starting to be felt," according to 451 Research Chief Analyst Eric Hanselman, "because although the number of devices has been growing rapidly, they don't yet stress existing capacity."

So how will SDN and IoT work together? "SDN is only just beginning to be deployed and won't see full deployment by network operators for another two years. While that may seem a distant future, it's critical that providers and vendors are actively engaged today," Hanselman said.

"As the Internet of Things matures, its interconnection needs will invert those of existing trends, namely low data volumes in very high numbers of connections," Hanselman said. "The configuration flexibility that SDN offers can allow both network operators and enterprises to more flexibly allocate resources to cope with this shift. Network functions virtualization [NFV] can add scalability to the security and processing functions needed to handle this new wave of data."

Here are some possible SDN-meets-IoT benefits.

SDN and IoT support M2M device fleets. Enterprises face increasingly expensive investments in the data center for machine to machine (M2M) device fleet expansion when they rely on standard switching. Virtual private networks (VPNs) work well for fleets of machine-to-machine (M2M) devices that use SIM cards for voice communications on a mobile network. But with M2M fleets without SIMs, there's a limit to how many VPNs standard switching can support, which limits the size of the device fleet that standard switching can support.

SDN can minimize that data center investment, and the programmable network enables IoT to address VPN exhaustion, according to Jeff Edlund, CTO of communications media and solutions at HP Enterprise Services.

"Today the data center must provision another switch every time it reaches the maximum number of VPNs it can support with existing switches," Edlund said. "But using programmable networks, flow control and SDN, devices in growing device fleets can talk to each other without that additional hardware investment."

SDN and NFV to support uptime and IoT. Telecom networks provide connectivity from the IoT device to the cloud. These networks have traditionally been built using physical equipment, which ensured adequate uptime for services. But as service providers start to deploy SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) in their networks, they face challenges in terms of how to maintain the level of reliability customers have come to expect. In many cases, reliability is guaranteed by SLAs that providers have to meet regardless of the technology they use in their networks.

"Once service providers bring in SDN and NFV, they end up with new virtualized network applications that they haven't proven," said Charlie Ashton, senior director of networking solutions at Intel subsidiary Wind River, a vendor that supports uptime for network infrastructure platforms to connect IoT-enabled devices to the edge management system in the data center. The vendor uses its carrier-grade Titanium Server that integrates an NFV software platform to provide the reliability that IoT-related services require.

"The Titanium Server for SDN and NFV deployments helps guarantee the level of service reliability that you need for IoT customers," he continued.

Other vendors enable IoT capability in a variety of ways, Hanselman said, specifically citing Ciena's Agility Matrix, an NFV platform, and Alcatel Lucent's CloudBand.

Next Steps

SDN automation meets Internet of Things: Check your security

IoT management anxiety? SDN and network orchestration could help

Why one-vendor IoT security won't cut it

Connected devices are coming; time to grapple with security and integration

IoT cloud options appeal to manufacturers

This was last published in January 2015

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