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

SDN—Scalability for the IoT
From a centralized point, it's possible to create automated protocols that allow for the macro-management of data flows. Augmented reality, targeted advertising, threat assessment and mitigation, and even standard daily navigation, require that network devices respond automatically and dynamically. With SDN, you can pre-define policies that prepare a network for new devices before they're even attached to the network, which basically allows you to predict IoT network attachments and be fluid in response to these new devices. SDN allows for the rapid and easy addition of new IoT devices due to its inherent scalability. Programming responsive protocols to new additions to the network means that the network can expand (or contract) as needed. This dynamic response system drastically reduces the risk of the IoT.

SDN—Traffic Flow Optimization for the IoT
The virtualization of SDN components allows for the dynamic reconfiguration of network devices and traffic, as well as automated provisioning and deprovisioning of bandwidth. So even as the IoT traffic grows, it's possible to dedicate bandwidth for high-traffic moments, or to prioritize applications involving health and safety. The global nature of the IoT means an influx of data, but with that information will come analytics leading to smarter, more predictive automation.

If devices were more aware of each other, traffic issues could be automatically resolved since they would no longer depend on manually orchestrated solutions.

SDN can also increase network visibility. Consider a scenario in which, when the internet backbone's main data routes from Los Angeles to New York City reach 80 percent utilization, network administrators prioritize alternate paths until utilization falls below 50 percent. This requires the forethought to know that a particular circuit might reach capacity, at what utilization new capacity needs to be brought online in order to avoid impacting the network, and the available dark fiber on which to light up one or more new paths.

But imagine if that same scenario were automatically resolved with myriad switches across various service providers. They could route low-priority traffic from Los Angeles to Dallas to New York City, which would free up capacity on the direct Los Angeles to New York City link. Then the traffic could be shifted back once the load decreased. This scenario could be any group of cities around the globe and, due to the chaotic nature of the internet, might need to cascade where multiple classes of traffic need to be dynamically rerouted. These scenarios cannot be hypothesized and planned for ahead of time—every eventuality just isn't possible by humans. Global automation, driven by monitoring and SDN, brings this much closer to reality.

Jay Turner is senior director of development operations at Console, a global software-defined networking services provider, and the project lead for CloudRouter, an open-source project for network collaboration and innovation. Turner has more than 20 years of leadership experience in open-source software, encompassing development, quality risk assessment, operations and support.

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