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SDN Today for Tomorrow’s Network

Mar 8, 2016

Dan Pitt discusses the impact SDN has on the networks for today, tomorrow, and beyond. 

SDNThese are not the networks I started my career with. Networks have changed a lot in the last two decades, and we can only expect the evolution to continue as our world becomes more connected. And SDN is no longer just a buzzword for things to come. It is real and happening as we speak.

Many organizations all over the globe and of all sizes are deploying SDN. Why? The simple answer is – because they have to. In order for companies to meet their customers’ changing needs and deliver new services, they must have strong networks that work at the speed of today’s business.

To properly implement SDN, you must understand the why behind the need. Here are a couple trends that will require SDN in order for the networks to, well, work.

The Internet of Connected Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t “coming.” It is here. As the volume of connected devices continues to expand, so will the connected services needed to support these devices, taking a toll on network capacity and taxing its ability to be flexible and dynamic. Networks are facing a tipping point with the growth of mobile data and the need to simultaneously operate over multiple transmission technologies, especially wireless. 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 connected devices is that they are extremely power-limited, cost-sensitive, and time-sensitive. Therefore their communication protocols and technologies might have to be specific to their application environment and their priorities in order for Quality of Service (QoS) 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.

5G Connectivity

The next wave of mobile connectivity is coming to operators – 5G. In order for IoT to work properly, mobile operator networks will need to be upgraded to 5G connectivity. The capabilities of 5G will facilitate emerging applications that are not yet feasible today, such as public safety and medical applications, industrial control, automated transportation, environmental protection, and artistic creativity, which require different levels of network quality and service. Some IoT applications will require higher bandwidth and some will require lower latency, while others will demand extended battery life.

With 5G networks, the needs of a wide variety of devices and applications will be met so that IoT service providers or enterprises will not need to worry about the details of the network or radio technologies involved. The variety of these devices and applications requires a highly flexible infrastructure, with its behavior dynamically programmed by software (hence SDN). We, and others, are exploring how SDN supports 5G in concrete ways, but there should be no doubt that without SDN, the promise of 5G will be muted at best.

It is clear that the last two decades have brought a transformation to our networks, one that we will continue to see as the “always-on” world we live in becomes even further connected. While the connected lifestyle is exciting, in order for it to reach its full potential, network operators need to adopt SDN to affordably build an infrastructure that meets so many differing requirements.

What are your thoughts on SDN’s role in the future of the network? Let us know in the comments below.

–  Dan Pitt, Executive Director