How SDN can help IoT - Using Software Defined Networks with IoT

April 26th, 2017

Many businesses have embraced IoT as a way to gather more data, improve their services and better understand their customers. McKinsey highlights this by showing how the IoT market, which was $900M in 2015, will grow to $3.7B in 2020. However, this growth comes at a cost - more efficient and faster networks will be needed to deal with the increase in network traffic caused by IoT devices.

Using SDN to improve IOT

In order to handle this influx of IoT devices, many companies are turning to Software Defined Network (SDN) technology. SDN has become a popular option for companies looking to manage their networks using a more cost-effective software solution, especially when compared with more expensive hardware methods. SDN allows companies to optimize their networks specifically for IoT. Dennis Ward, an analyst at ACG Research discusses how SDNs are able to assist with IoT traffic:

  • Service chaining - Service chaining allows an SDN to create a virtual chain of services, such as firewalls, intrusion protection and VPNs. A service chain can then be set to handle specific traffic for specific devices or services, such as an IoT device.
  • Dynamic load management - Dynamic load management allows network administrators to automatically adjust network rules, depending on the overall load of network traffic.
  • Bandwidth calendaring - IoT devices do not need continuous access to a network. IoT devices only need access to the network at specific intervals, which bandwidth calendaring will allow a network administrator to take into account.

SDN also allows for a far more dynamic approach to network management in general. Where traditional network management relies on configuring specific hardware devices, such as routers and switches, on an individual basis, SDN simplifies this process. A central SDN controller allows you to apply rules to an individual device or across an entire network as you need to. This allows for far more flexible network management. An additional benefit of a SDN is that it allows you to create separate network domains using a virtual network layer. This allows you to control access for applications or clients.

These are just a few of the general benefits that SDN can offer companies looking to take advantage of IoT, but in order to better understand how SDN can be used, here are two specific challenges and how SDN can be used to overcome them:

Distance and latency

IoT devices will be a long distance away from the servers that collect and process their data, particularly since current network designs usually place these servers at the center of the network. This will impact data transmission latency. Servers will need to be brought closer to the edge of the network, but this increases network complexity.

SDN makes it possible to overcome network complexity and improve latency by taking advantage of the agile policy and network management tools provided by SDN to optimize your network. Where manually configuring hardware devices on a network will be costly (employees will need to configure each individual piece of hardware), an SDN can be used to adapt your network far more quickly.

Securing IoT devices

Many IoT devices are lacking when it comes to security. The reasons vary from lack of concern from the hardware developers, to a focus on speed & efficiency over security, to hard-coded security access. Regardless of the reason why security is poor, these issues pose a major risk to the security of your network.

If your IoT devices have poor security and you are worried about how this will affect your network, SDN can be used to secure the network itself. Jay Turner, the head of the CloudRouter Project, discusses that while an SDN is incapable of covering up every IoT device flaw or vulnerability that may allow an attacker access to your network, it allows you to segment the network itself and reduce the impact any breaches may have. While not a perfect solution, until IoT device manufacturers are able to enhance their security features it is better than a completely vulnerable network.

There are many additional ways an SDN can help you support your IoT network. For more information on how to achieve this with SDNs, or for help on setting up your SDN solution, contact Edgewater Networks today.


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