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SDN-Enabled Wi-Fi.

Nov 4, 2014

What happens when SDN and Wi-Fi join forces? Meru Network’s Ajay Malik tells us.

We live in a world where nearly every device we use is connected to the Internet. When you think about the amount of devices that are Internet-connected, it is an astonishing number. In fact, Gartner estimates that 26 billion devices will be connected to the Internet of Things by 2020.

As a society, we’ve come to expect the same connectivity wirelessly that we get when hardwired to the Internet. To achieve the full promise of mobility, wired and wireless LANs must be delivered faster and managed more easily. With the looming number of devices connecting to the Internet, what can networks do now to prepare for the influx?

SDN implementation into wireless networks is one promising solution. We’ve seen how SDN has transformed campus networks, data centers, and the cloud, to date, so how can SDN help with Wi-Fi? SDN-enabled Wi-Fi is the best solution in delivering consistent high performance Wi-Fi to the growing number of Wi-Fi connected devices.

Because of the SDN architecture, wireless networks are enabled to become more agile and scale based on the networks demand. Here are four benefits for SDN-enabled Wi-Fi:

  • Network Simplification: With SDN, the central control structure is consolidated allowing for easier automation. Having a single viewpoint allows for easier management of the wired and wireless LAN, simplifies network operations, and lowers costs. Administrators can view clients using a single tool, no matter which network they’re on, while also gaining greater visibility into the unified network.
  • Policy Control: The forwarding plane of OpenFlow-enabled network devices can be managed via a single SDN Controller. With SDN, IT policies are defined once and then are enforced consistently across the wired and wireless LANs. This allows the network administrator to manage policy control across the entire unified network. This capability ensures users have a uniform experience, regardless of their access method.
  • Traffic Management: SDN can be used to monitor network traffic flows, specifically how the traffic should be routed, and which application flows should have priority access. Ensuring the performance of critical business applications is a common IT objective. Take for example a typical IT scenario: The CEO is hosting a virtual meeting and it is essential that everyone can view the video. Before the meeting takes place, an SDN application can be programmed to automatically provision the network to allocate bandwidth and enforce a quality of service that ensures the broadcast of the video gets top priority on the network. In order to do this today without SDN, it would require a huge amount of manual configuration across both the wired and wireless networks. However, with SDN provisioning is automated and easy.
  • Location Services: Since most users access the network wirelessly, SDN-enabled Wi-Fi lets IT make dynamic decisions using the physical location of the user. This is particularly handy when dealing with locations that get inundated with multiple devices, such as conferences. This capability lets the network manager see what activity is taking place on the network by location and ensures that one location is not overloaded.

The promise of SDN is that networks are no longer closed, proprietary and difficult to program. But the extent of that openness and flexibility ultimately depends on each vendor’s implementation and adherence to the standards. Limited implementations or proprietary twists will serve only to hamstring the progress of SDN with customers.

To deliver on the promise, SDN must work for all users and across all networks, with true interoperability among network components via open standards such as OpenFlow. With open programmable access to the wireless infrastructure, network-aware applications can communicate directly with wired switches and wireless controllers and access points, and the unified network can change dynamically in response, allowing customers to reap the full benefits of SDN.

– Ajay Malik, senior vice president of Worldwide Engineering and Products at Meru Networks
Ajay Malik, a 20-year veteran of wireless and IT infrastructure and the author of RTLS for Dummies, is responsible for the vision, WLAN solutions (including hardware, software development, system architecture, and quality assurance), and product strategy of Meru Networks. He has been instrumental in crafting the vision of Meru SDN Wi-Fi, which enables unified wired/wireless networks and empowers IT organizations to become more responsive to the needs of the business, as well as to more effectively manage their networks and deliver services.