software-defined networking

Is software-defined networking excellent for IoT?

February 1, 2016


Software-defined networking allows network administrators to manage high-level functionality through abstraction, by decoupling the control plane from the data plane (physical and logical networks are separated via this configuration), and by interposing a mechanism that allows communications in-between the two levels.

Thus the network control is directly programmable, while the lower infrastructure is isolated from the processes regarding the data traffic management. Big data is better handled this way and the entire network gains dynamism and agility.

SDN allows the use of open protocols in order to deploy globally aware control at the edges of a network and easily access routers and switches previously bound by specific firmware.

The software-defined networking solution

debuted shortly after Java’s release in 1995 with AT&T’s GeoPlex project, went through the stage of being called service preference architecture (SPA), and consecrated its status and denomination in 2011, when the Open Networking Foundation officially emerged.

This nonprofit trade organization, with funding coming from companies such as Facebook, Deutsche Telecom, Google or Verizon, and currently counting over 150 members, standardizes and promotes SDN and the OpenFlow protocol. The OpenFlow® Standard is the first SDn established standard, and although it is just one of the protocols having to do with SDNs, it is also the most renowned one, making it very likely to meet the two terms together (SDN, OpenFlow) in various networking discussions.

As the description above may have suggested already, software-defined networking is actually a type of network architecture, demanded by the latest traffic patterns. A static classical network deployment (the so-called “north-south” type) did no longer agree with the nowadays machine-to-machine abundant data traffic.

Traits of software-defined networking architecture

According to the Open Networking Foundation, when physically separating the network control plane from the forwarding plane, the emerging architecture becomes:

-direct programmability;


-centralized control;

-programmatic configuration;

-based on open standards;

-vendor neutrality.

Enterprises could especially use such networks

that enable dynamic controls and response to and from both physical and virtual network elements. The same Open Networking Foundation lists as traits/benefits of OpenFlow-based SDNs the following: a complexity reduction that enables easier network automation, the possibility of a higher rate of innovation and custom tailoring, a higher network granularity and scalability, as well as a considerably increased reliability and cyber-security.

In detailing the way SDN pairs well with automation, Cisco mentions how SDN’s centralized and extensible orchestration platforms provide network management abilities that can be easily automated. Such a modern infrastructure is able to reduce to minutes the tasks previously performed in days, providing companies with a dynamic services infrastructure solution.

Virtualization would be another enterprise move enabled by SDNs, since this network configuration supports additional bandwidth and bandwidth calendaring, as well as WAN optimization. In the case of cloud computing and data centers where multi-tenants are sharing the same carrier and various specific services circulate vast amounts of data, the abilities facilitated by SDNs’ configuration are revolutionary.

Software-defined networking developments

As NetworkWorld notes, the newer definition of SDN takes into consideration the programmatic interfaces provision into the network equipment over the control and forwarding planes’ decoupling. In fact, regardless of the said separation/decoupling, Cisco maintains the SDN concept and functionality by providing APIs into their multiple platforms.

The same programmatic approach is specific to other vendors, too, such as Arista or Juniper, and comes with extremely detailed access capabilities. However, the same publication is reluctant when considering this approach as a growing future trend.

Meanwhile, the telecom environment goes on in 2016 with operators proof-of-concept testing SDN platforms. A higher adoption degree is expected for 2017. In this uneven assembly where various network architectural structures coexist, tier-one operators are addressing network operators and IT professionals with a request to join forces for a faster, more reliable deployment of SDN and network function virtualization (NFV), since a broader adoption of these technologies in the telecommunications field is slow.

A Forbes article lists as SDN opportunities (from a carrier’s point of view, since the article is sponsored by Huawei), the following:

  • Enhanced capabilities for campus networks that would support all wireless users and mobile terminals;
  • Better bandwidth utilization in WANs, as proved by Google internally when they raised the bandwidth utilization rate by 90% via SDN;
  • Specific industries customization, in accordance with the particular demands and needs (which would suit the healthcare or energy sectors, for example).

While the benefits are many and they logically pan out in front of any involved professionals that fully understand SDN functionality, there are some challenges involved that regard ensuring a smooth migration to SDNs, unifying the necessary cyber-security measures, adapting the hardware (by installing ENP – Ethernet Network Processor chips switches) or adopting the new network management procedures.

*The necessary specific training in working with such a configuration can also be acquired via courses or internships – check here to see the description of such a program coming from the OpenDaylight internship program (appliance deadline January 29, 8 openings, San Francisco area).

There are also pioneers that prove how this technology benefits network resources and functionality, while bringing software-defined networking even more into the public attention

For example, Enfield CTO Paul Russell solved the Internet cost and efficiency problem by using this technology for a network that had to provide for 5,000 K-12 students and 4,000 devices (the public school).

With global 2016-2020 forecasts that foresee a growing evolution, from early deployments, including mixed and hybrid solutions in 2016-2017 to full mainstream position in 2019-2020, the SDN technology is worth taking into consideration. The estimated value of the global SDN market is somewhere in the vicinity of $11.5 Billion, according to the same report coming from Mind Commerce LLC.

On this high note, SDN would be yet another element in the pre-IoT environment development that we strongly encourage you to further research.