SDN/NFV use cases in an IoT environment are taking shape, as CSPs turn to virtualization to support the growing number and diversity of smart devices. NFV can help service providers deliver secure network resources to meet the unique and evolving needs of IoT applications, as well as the related challenges of big data.
As a network architecture, SDN allows for network control to be decoupled from the forwarding plane and the forwarding plane to be directly programmable by the control plane. The power-limited and cost-limited nature of many of the devices in the IoT makes them ideal candidates to be optimized solely for their application and basic forwarding, not for network control. With SDN, businesses and carriers gain vendor-independent control over the entire network from a single logical point, which greatly simplifies network design and operation. SDN allows IT to leverage the simplified network design to deploy new services in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months, and create new services for differentiation. SDN provides a flexible tool to improve the management of the networks. These network functions can now be implemented in software processes that operators can control centrally and provision automatically with orchestration tools. In effect, these SDN-based processes constitute the network’s “brain,” which can communicate to the “body” (switches, routers, gateways, etc.) in an automatic, open, and programmable way.
NFV allows operators to architect networks by evolving standard IT virtualization technology to consolidate network equipment types into industry standard, high-volume servers, switches, and storage located in data center, network node and end-user premises. NFV provides the flexibility needed to quickly and easily integrate new services at various locations without the need for new equipment. Combining NFV and SDN also opens the door for new revenue by enabling carriers to introduce new services quickly and to capitalize on excess network capacity (even momentarily) to offer ad-hoc, on-demand services. The IoT will benefit by slotting right into a wider network already managed by SDN and NFV and thus will be more easily adopted with high efficiency.
When we look at the IoT revolution, SDN offers promise by providing the opportunity to control networks according to the needs of each organization, each subnetwork, each type of “thing,” each application.
IoT use cases have tremendous breadth, ranging from municipal traffic networks and electric and gas utilities, to consumer wearables, home networks and medical devices.
Some significant IoT applications that are in scope for CSPs:
- Home automation
- Smart metering
- Connected cars
- Energy management
- Smart cities
- Health Patient Monitoring
- Environmental and Manufacturing sensors
- Transportation and asset tracking
However, such IoT applications have very diverse network requirements. For example, connected cars may need to continuously send large amounts of data during operation, while a connected vending machine only needs to send a small amount of data several times a day. Some applications also have critical network security requirements — witness the recent hacking of connected cars.
One characteristic that all IoT applications have in common: Each sensor collects data and sends it to a control point — often over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LTE/4G or some combination of the above. In general, the smarter the device, the more data it collects and sends. Those applications need constant access to sophisticated network control and monitoring that only SDN can provide, scalable analytics and business intelligence platforms; not all of this analysis can or should occur in a centralized location. Distributed intelligence throughout the network will ultimately enable the near real-time analytics that IoT demands. NFV can help CSPs build network intelligence to manage traffic – eliminate bottlenecks — secure traffic in transit to the IoT gateway and, as necessary, provide analytics at the network edge to reduce latency. However, in order to make a solid business case, the SDN/NFV platform has to run on a commodity hardware in order to make it as cost-effective as possible, like in the iPhotonix case.