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Software-Defined Networking will be a critical enabler of the Internet of Things

Jeff Reed | June 9, 2015
SDN will support IoT by centralizing control, abstracting network devices, and providing flexible, dynamic, automated reconfiguration of the network

Then there is the variety of devices that need to be managed and supported. These range from network switches supporting popular management applications and protocols, to legacy SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) devices and those that lack the compute and/or memory to support standard authentication or encryption. Finally, there is the need for very rapid, and even real-time, response, especially for applications involving safety (such as hazardous industrial processes) or commerce (such as monitoring of inventory or customer behavior).

Given this complexity and scale, manual network management is simply not feasible. SDN provides the only viable, cost-effective means to manage the IoT, secure the network and the data on it, minimize bandwidth requirements and maximize the performance of the applications and analytics that use its data.

SDN Benefits

SDN brings three important capabilities to IoT:

  • Centralization of control through software that has complete knowledge of the network, enabling automated, policy-based control of even massive, complex networks. Given the huge potential scale of IoT environments, SDN is critical in making them simple to manage.
  • Abstraction of the details of the many devices and protocols in the network, allowing IoT applications to access data, enable analytics and control the devices, and add new sensors and network control devices, without exposing the details of the underlying infrastructure. SDN simplifies the creation, deployment and ongoing management of the IoT devices and the applications that benefit from them.
  • The flexibility to tune the components within the IoT (and manage where data is stored and analyzed) to continually maximize performance and security as business needs and data flows change. IoT environments are inherently disperse with many end devices and edge computing. As a result, the network is even more critical than in standard application environments. SDN's ability to dynamically change network behavior based on new traffic patterns, security incidents andpolicy changes will enable IoT environments to deliver on their promise.


For example, through the use ofpredefined policies for plug-and-play set up, SDN allows for the rapid and easy addition of new types of IoT sensors. By abstracting network services from the hardware on which they run, SDN allows automated, policy-based creation of virtual load balancers, quality of service for various classes of traffic, and the provisioning of network resources for peak demands.

The ease of adding and removing resources reduces the cost and risk of IoT experiments by allowing the easy deprovisioning and reuse of the network infrastructure when no longer needed.

SDN will make it easier to find and fight security threats through the improved visibility they provide into network traffic right to the edge of the network. They also make it easy to apply automated policies to redirect suspicious traffic to, for example, a honeynet where it can be safely examined. By making networking management less complex, SDN allows IT to set and enforce more segmented access controls.


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