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SDN for theInternetOf Things.

Sep 10, 2014

The Internet of Things (IoT) is coming. SDN is destined to cross paths with IoT and can prepare networks for the onslaught of traffic.  

In my recent contributed article for Light Reading, I discuss SDN’s role in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) category – the full article can be accessed here.

The technology industry has been all abuzz with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). This growing category refers to an ecosystem of connected devices and services ranging from smart cars, connected appliances, healthcare services and monitors, wearables, and connected cities, among many other “things”. Do you think this is the stuff of only the future? Reports from Cisco estimated that there were 8.7 billion connected devices in 2012, with some 50 billion devices expected to connect to the Internet by 2020. That’s a sobering number for network operators — the arrival of more connected devices and growing customer expectations for connectivity will directly impact them.

As the breadth of connected devices continues to expand, connected services are also emerging, taking a toll on limited network capacity. Networks are facing a tipping point with the growth of mobile data and the need to simultaneously operate over multiple wireless technologies. It is unclear what the economic impact will be to the networks, but it is clear that they will grow and become more complex. One characteristic of many of the devices is that they are extremely power-limited and cost-sensitive. Another is that when they govern industrial processes their communications are extremely time-sensitive. Therefore their communication protocols and technologies might have to be quite specific to their application environment and their priorities and Quality of Service (QoS) need to be maintained across multi-application networks. And while their individual traffic rates might be small, the sheer number of devices means that the volume of aggregated traffic will be large. Thus the rise of IoT means that networks will inevitably be handling an influx in big data and an increase in network traffic. Not properly prepared to handle this increase in activity, networks could become paralyzed.

What can network operators do now to prepare for IoT and avoid crippling their networks with the increased traffic? IoT will require networks to become more agile to accommodate the increased amount of transmitted data along with the expansion of connected devices. In looking ahead to what is in store for networks and IoT, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is a viable solution to manage the increased traffic and its QoS.

As a network architecture, SDN allows for network control to be decoupled from the forwarding plane and the forwarding plane to be directly programmable by the control plane. The power-limited and cost-limited nature of many of the devices in the IoT makes them ideal candidates to be optimized solely for their application and basic forwarding, not for network control. Mobile networks are strong candidates for SDN implementation as they already maintain a separation of the control and data planes. With SDN, enterprises and carriers gain vendor-independent control over the entire network from a single logical point, which greatly simplifies network design and operation. SDN allows IT to leverage the simplified network design to deploy new services in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months, and create new services for differentiation. SDN provides a flexible tool to improve the management of the networks. These network functions can now be implemented in software processes that operators can control centrally and provision automatically with orchestration tools. In effect, these SDN-based processes constitute the network’s “brain,” which can communicate to the “body” (switches, routers, gateways, etc.) in an automatic, open, and programmable way.

Find out more here on how SDN will cross paths with IoT and lead to a truly connected lifestyle.

–         Dan Pitt, Executive Director