Managing the IoT With Software-Defined Networking

The Internet of Things is taking off like a hummingbird on fire, and software-defined networking is the only hope we have of managing the massive influx of data the IoT is generating.
By Jay Turner
Sep 06, 2016

The complexity of the Internet of Things means that only something as centrally manageable, scalable and flexible as software-defined networking (SDN) has a shot at dealing with the overwhelming data flows being generated by IoT devices. In fact, the prolific increase in the amount of traffic and devices is a key motivation for the rapid development and deployment of SDN technology.

Sheer scale is probably the biggest challenge of the IoT: Gartner estimates that devices connected to the IoT will number more than 20 billion in 2020, by which time the IDC predicts that 10 percent of all data on the planet will be generated by IoT devices. Service providers of all types will need to be far nimbler in their capacity to respond to changes—they'll need the ability to adjust rapidly and seamlessly by scaling up (or down) network services in certain geographies versus others.

The wide variety of devices is also an area of concern. Every device that plays a role in the IoT needs to be managed and supported. This includes legacy network devices, such as routers and switches, as well as other devices, such as drones, wearables and implantables that do not contain adequate memory to support common encryption techniques. Add to this list devices that we haven't even invented yet. Plus, these devices need to be supported without interruption, especially when they're used for safety or commerce applications. The proliferation of the IoT means increased expectations. Poor performance today already affects everything from a user's daily interactions (think: Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and so forth) to the ability to communicate (voice-over-IP services like Skype, Hangouts, WhatsApp, etc.) to the global economy (electronic payments, transfers, stock market and so on). A growing number of software and devices are being added to the system at every moment.

Why SDN for the IoT?
SDN provides the only viable, cost-effective means of managing the IoT, securing the network, and maximizing the performance of applications and analytics. Due to the IoT's explosive growth and the chaotic nature of the public internet, some of this traffic will need to be moved onto private, dedicated pathways. Otherwise, traffic will create latency issues for business-critical communication and applications. Service providers and their customers can utilize these dedicated paths to transmit business-critical traffic, while still relying on the public internet for less critical traffic, but this requires the kind of protean response that only SDN technologies can provide.

SDN—Simplicity for the IoT
SDN allows for the automation and centralized management of networks that can be remotely provisioned and managed. Long gone are the days of sending people out to colocated data centers with switches under their arms and a configuration file on a USB stick. The IoT will demand that providers rapidly onboard, configure and reconfigure devices across the globe, so having a centralized management point will become a mandatory component of that solution.

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