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SDN and network orchestration will ease IoT management nightmares

To network pros, the Internet of Things means complexity and zillions of devices to manage. SDN and network orchestration may solve those challenges.

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series from Open Networking User Group (ONUG) board member Lane Patterson on managing the explosion of the Internet of Things. Here, Patterson discusses the need for SDN and network orchestration. In part two, he explores IoT security issues.

One of the most intriguing results of continuation of Moore's law is the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). It has gotten so cheap to put a relatively powerful computer, network and sensor system into almost any device that it's becoming a no-brainer to do so. On the consumer side, everything from thermostats to watches to alarm systems to TVs all now sport computers and network connections. But the truly grand-scale thinking is on the municipal and business side.

In cities, law enforcement and traffic managers have installed cameras and traffic monitors almost everywhere, and more are planned. While policy makers and privacy advocates spar over fourth amendment issues, city CIOs have just as big of an issue with managing the networks that transport all this data.

Businesses have countless uses for network-connected sensors. Applications from inventory management to fleet efficiency are on the minds of corporate IT architects. GE estimated that the "Industrial Internet" can eliminate some $150 billion in waste. Union Pacific uses sensors to determine the wear on its trains' wheels. Through the monitoring of their health, trains can be run at higher speeds, resulting in better overall performance and safety of the system. Some of the more optimistic estimates put the net effect of IoT on the economy in the trillions (with a "t") of dollars.

SDN and network orchestration let engineers manage greater volume

We're not sure if the economic impact on the network will be in the many trillions too, but networks will grow and become more complex, which means the relatively manual methods of managing networks will be rendered economically unviable.

Manual management of physical components was what stalled server proliferation before virtualization became widely used. Before virtualization and the orchestration capabilities that it enabled, server managers could handle perhaps 100 systems. Now they handle thousands. Likewise, today a network manager can handle a hundred or so networking devices. As the IoT moves from promise to reality, they'll have to manage 10 to 100 times that many devices.

More on IoT network management

Who is responsible for securing Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things means new network pressures

When the Internet of Things meets facilities management

For the Internet of Things, SDN automation … and some concerns

Improving management efficiency and tackling complexity will require software control that far exceeds what can be done today. The ONUG has made this one of its primary use cases and is seeking to provide vendors with guidance on what is needed as network complexity and scale move beyond what can be handled with today's systems.

Clever scripting and a careful adherence to corporate buying standards are not enough of an answer. The ability to orchestrate the operation of the network at a high level and to allow software to determine the proper configuration of each network element is a critical step in realizing the IoT promise. These new orchestration and management approaches are taking shape now at ONUG. Today's new open networking configuration and management systems have to be designed to IoT scale.

The first step to managing increased complexity of the IoT is software definability for networks, but a close follower must be the orchestration software that can manage the complexity of massive networks and aggregate performance information so network managers can handle their systems holistically.

History tells us that when complexity is an issue, a single-vendor system is often the best way to manage the complexity, and if it was just a matter of simplified management, a single vendor system might indeed be the way to go. But along with simplified management must come a better data management and security model, and that can't be done by a single vendor. One could argue that security will be the primary obstacle in realizing the IoT promise.

ONUG Spring 2014 will be held in New York City, May 5-6.

Editor’s note: In the second part of this series, read about necessary IoT network security efforts.

About the author:
Lane Patterson is on the ONUG Board of Directors. After serving in many roles in telecom and Internet companies, Patterson joined Equinix in 2000 and is currently our chief network architect. Prior to joining Equinix, Patterson was director of IP network management systems for Global Crossing Inc., where he supported a global IP backbone and first-generation content distribution centers. At Metropolitan Fiber Systems, he lead operations of mid-Atlantic Frame Relay, ATM and related data networking services, as well as the MAE-East Internet exchange point during the first wave of commercial ISP growth. Patterson has a deep background in the technologies related to telecommunications, Internet routing and data center computing infrastructure.

Patterson received a B.A. in Physics from Cornell University and an M.S. in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University.

This was last published in April 2014

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Is SDN mature enough to handle Internet of Things management?
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Thanks to projects like OpenDaylight, Ryu , Openstack Neutron, we see that the SDN controllers have really matured. Taking these to the next level to manage IoT devices is the next logical step.
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