NIA: Avaya's ONA appliance marries SDN, IoT

Avaya wins this month's Network Innovation Award for its Open Networking Adapter, which enables SDN and IoT integration by turning end-user devices into intelligent "network nodes."

The latest winner of SearchNetworking's Network Innovation Award is Avaya Inc., in recognition of its Open Networking Adapter (ONA), an appliance that uses software-defined networking (SDN) principles to connect end-user devices to a virtual network. The ONA represents one of the earliest SDN-IoT integration efforts. Via automated provisioning, the device downloads and enforces centrally defined security and performance policies, in the process turning the Ethernet-equipped endpoint into an intelligent "network node." It then allows network administrators to virtually monitor the endpoint and reset or disable it, if necessary.

The ONA appliance itself, which is about the size of a deck of cards, uses the open source virtual networking platform Open vSwitch and runs on a commercial off-the-shelf processor. The device is designed for easy deployment by non-IT staff.

According to Avaya, the ONA -- part of the vendor's SDN Fx architecture -- can deliver intelligent connectivity to everything from an Internet of Things (IoT) device to an entire branch office, turning any endpoint into a network hotspot. To learn more about the appliance and what it means for the intersection of SDN and IoT, SearchSDN Site Editor Alissa Irei spoke with Randy Cross, senior director of product management at Avaya, based in Santa Clara, Calif.

How does Avaya's Open Networking Adapter enable SDN, IoT integration?

Randy Cross: ONA gives you the ability to basically take a tiny, little data center server, and attach it to an end device and provide processing power. You're able to get all of the capabilities and advantages of SDN right there at the user-device edge.

What kinds of devices could connect to the network using the ONA?

Cross: The first apps we're building center on the IoT device in healthcare. But with SDN, the trick is in the application, so the potential is rather immense. The ONA can connect everything from medical devices and manufacturing sensors to building management systems like HVAC.

What is Avaya's plan for further application development?

Cross: Our intent is to provide a software developer's kit to the partner community, along with training to assess the needs of their customer bases. This will allow them to drive their own value through the creation of apps, which they can either sell exclusively or via third-party vendors.

What's an example of a problem the ONA helps solve?

ONA gives you the ability to basically take a tiny, little data center server, and attach it to an end device and provide processing power.
Randy Crosssenior director of product management at Avaya

Cross: Medical devices have a bit of a unique problem in that the government regulates who can touch them, so the hospital IT staff doesn't get to configure them. That's left to the manufacturer of the IoT device, and a lot of those devices run older operating systems like Windows 2000. You can't necessarily put patches on them, or run an intrusion prevention system (IPS) or a host-based firewall. So, they need extra protection and attention. ONA creates isolation for those devices, so they can operate securely.

We are also using ONA to take devices out of scope for Payment Card Industry (PCI) audits -- removing that problem for some of these folks by removing data from the immediate payment environment.

In that vein, how exactly does the ONA address security?

Cross: The ONA addresses the first step in security, which is isolation. The IoT device is confined to a mission-specific network, isolating it from other traffic and systems, and limiting its ability to compromise the wider network fabric.

From there, we're really looking to the ecosystem to provide the other aspects of security, where we can isolate traffic, get it to whatever point we need in the network -- usually the data center -- and then be able to drop it there and into firewalls, IPS or whatever security solutions are required for that traffic.

How does Avaya view the SDN-IoT intersection?

Cross: SDN and IoT are definitely starting to come together now. As vendors, we always go for the low-hanging fruit first. So, you saw SDN applied to the data center, which clearly had lots of problems that were fairly straightforward to solve with the right tool set. Then, the industry jumped into SD-WAN, where there are cost problems and other issues that people are anxious to address. With ONA, we're looking at the user-device edge of the network to apply SDN. IoT is becoming a little clearer, and the way we apply technology to figure out related concerns is coming more to light. I think you're going to see a lot more focus on addressing IoT with SDN technology.

What's next for the ONA?

Cross: It's great to run around with that little ONA device in your hand, but the ONA itself is really about the code. Because it does run on a general purpose central processing unit, I can port that anywhere. We're having discussions about porting it onto other types of access devices -- that's a straightforward, easy one.

More interestingly, we're also out having discussions with endpoint manufacturers. So take your favorite kind of endpoint, which may actually have a processor in it, but doesn't necessarily have any kind of advanced intelligence or capability, and port that code into its processor. These devices would have inherent intelligence to talk to the network controller, without needing an extra piece of hardware. That's one less thing for IT to manage, while still getting all of the SDN-IoT capabilities and advantages they are looking for.

And what's next for Avaya generally?

Cross: We're certainly intent on continuing down this path that led us to ONA -- really figuring out how to address the business problems of our customer base. If that means more things out toward the user-edge, then we're looking at how we push those technologies out there -- from controller technology to endpoint technology.

We also will maintain our focus on open source and interoperable technologies. Rather than address the challenges of scale and high availability that come with OpenDaylight and OpenStack, many vendors have said, "You know what? It'd be easier to take the proprietary route."

We are really looking to take those challenges head-on, working with the community and our partners to figure out how to create scale and high-availability in those technologies. We want to enable customers to use open tools and any technology they want, with total interoperability.

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