Both Software Defined Networking (SDN) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are hot topics these days. There was an interesting panel discussion of these two topics together at the recent Fujitsu North America Technology Forum 2015 at Levi’s stadium.
The session was titled SDN and Next Generation Communication Infrastructure for End-to-End Connectivity in the IoT Era.
The moderator and the panelists were:
- Motoyoshi Sekiya, Director, Fujitsu Laboratories of America, Inc.
- Guru Parulkar, Co-Founder and Executive Director, ONRC, Consulting Professor, Stanford University
- Bob Lieber, Director, British Telecom
The following is a summary of the discussion and my thoughts after attending the session.
At the beginning, He described what the panel discussion would cover:
- How IoT impacts the communications infrastructure
- How SDN/NFV may alleviate such impacts
- What network infrastructure will look like in five years (the year 2020)
These were very interesting points regarding IoT in conjunction with SDN/NFV. IoT and SDN are each, as professor Parulkar put it, separate megatrends these days. He jokingly said that in combining the two, the session topic was a mega-megatrend.
Joking aside, in my cursory understanding, both fields are in their infancy. Like any emerging technologies, they are hyped, and marketers tend to relabel their existing products with new keywords to sound like they have already embraced the bleeding edge, such as IoT and SDN. I have seen this many times in the past and am not surprised at all.
This session was timely, and I was convinced it will take some time before the dust settles and we see the real picture of both SDN and IoT.
Lieber of British Telecom gave a partial list of what is already connected and what can be further connected on the net: refrigerators, mobile phones, smart outlets, Bluetooth padlocks, tablets, heart-monitoring implants, intelligent doorbells with face recognition, alarms, switches, dryers, sensors, automobiles, robotics, sprinklers, routers, laptops, vending machines, thermostats, coffeemakers, biochip transponders, connected motorcycle helmets, traffic lights, washers, health equipment, window shades, baby monitors, speakers, and more.
Actually, I can add more to his list (I am sure you can, too) and am sure the list will grow as time goes on. By 2020, it is expected that fifty billion devices (this figure is used by many people, including Fujitsu executives at the conference and Cisco) will be connected and on the net. Thanks to IPv6, we have plenty of IP addresses available to assign to such devices.
What SDN Is and Its Benefits
Parulkar said that SDN brought to networking a separation of applications, control, and communications infrastructure. Because of that, the following has been established:
- Innovation due to openness and programmability to infrastructure
- New revenue generation services opportunities
- Reduced opex due to automation and autonomic systems brought by abstraction/virtualization
- Reduced capex due to the separation of applications/control/infrastructure
These are listed as benefits of SDN by many people. Briefly, by separating applications, control, and infrastructure, we have more chances to be innovative in creating applications and services (#1). That leads to new opportunities for new services (#2). Item #3 can be paraphrased as flexibility. Again, because of the separation of applications, control, and infrastructure, inexpensive commodity white-labeled equipment can be deployed instead of expensive brand equipment (#4).
Lieber’s take was along the same line. That is, SDN made networks smarter, optimizing the use of networking infrastructures.
How to Approach SDN
When it comes to applying SDN, what do we do? Lieber gave the following advice:
- Different vendors take different approaches. Decide which platform to take, open or vendor specific.
- Understand SDN and consider how it relates to your IoT strategy.
- Ensure QoS throughout deployment.
- Determine whether existing equipment is ready to implement SDN.
Where SDN Stands
Sekiya pointed out that those connected devices will number fifty billion by 2020 and the number of device types will be huge. Each type may demand a different kind or level of quality of experience (QoE). It is not an easy job to apply SDN to such diverse groups. He then said that SDN currently is applied to data centers but is under consideration for application to WAN. Networking in data centers and networking in outside networks are very different. If you own a data center, you are likely to have control over its network.
On the other hand, you are less likely to have direct control over WAN, and it would be more difficult to drive the way networking traffic is managed. It is also true that WAN involves more types of communication technologies, such as wired, wireless, and optical.
Networking is complex when you consider different layers. How does SDN get applied in multiple layers? Is controlling one layer enough? More research is required for this answer.
He also said that because of the high volume of traffic, optical communications will be required more, and that will require virtualization for optical networking.
Continues to Part-2