Internet of Things Networking Challenges

As key challenges of networking the IoT become clear, virtual networking through SDN and NFV is emerging as critical to solutions.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Apr 22, 2016
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The Internet of Things is clearly the next challenge on the enterprise horizon, its impact already being felt across infrastructure, data management, analytics, storage and a host of other disciplines, including networking. But unlike traditional blended network infrastructures, in which data is conveniently handed off from one protocol to another as it makes its way across wired, wireless, carrier, WAN, LAN, rack and interconnect layers, the IoT will require a lot more synergy between these segments and a unified management infrastructure to keep it all in hand.

According to Princeton University professor Jennifer Rexford, however, the IoT’s main challenges come down to scale and security, both of which can be addressed by the advances taking place in virtual networking. As she explains to Channelnomics, the sheer number of devices makes it nearly impossible to prevent breaches, so the next logical place to enforce security is on the network, which can now be dynamically configured on the fly thanks to SDN and NFV. And as the number of connected devices continues to climb, including mobile units like cars that require continuous, real-time, two-way connectivity, the ability to automate virtual networking solutions will become paramount.

This is why companies are coming out of the woodwork touting IoT and Big Data networking solutions. One of the latest is WindSpring, which is close to launching a compression and connectivity solution for disparate IoT devices. The SpringBoard platform allows devices to access multiple networks regardless of the protocol they house natively, and then takes the added step of compressing data to ease traffic flows to edge processing units or centralized data stores. This Any-to-Any (A2A) capability supports all of the major protocols to date, including HTTP, Apple HomeKit and Brillo, and can be continually updated to accommodate new ones as they emerge. In this way, organizations can incorporate large numbers of disparate devices without adding unnecessary complexity to their own Internet of Things networks.

This need for universal IoT connectivity is also prompting network industry leaders to add new generations of management services to their portfolios. A case in point is Cisco’s recent acquisition of Jasper, which has developed a SaaS-based IoT service management platform capable of linking various devices over existing cellular networks. The system is currently deployed at more than 3,500 organizations across the globe and is compatible with numerous IT management platforms from IBM, Microsoft, SAP and others. Under Cisco, the system will likely be combined with the company’s emerging security and analytics capabilities, says Datamation’s Pedro Hernandez, coupled with enhanced connectivity capabilities to extend its reach over enterprise Wi-Fi and Low-Power WAN solutions.

Meanwhile, activity is also accelerating on the wide area and cellular levels, which will determine enterprise IoT connectivity to a large extent. A major challenge is meeting the diverse traffic requirements of multiple devices, which can vary across volume-size, speed, throughput and a host of other factors. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, a company called Ingenu is experimenting with Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA), which is designed to provide broad connectivity with minimal infrastructure, according to industrialiot5g.com’s Sean Kinney. So far, the company has created a machine network over 2,000 square miles with only 17 access points, a fraction of what a normal cell service would require.

No one ever expected the IoT to be easy, but most of the attention so far has centered on the analytics and data-handling challenges the technology represents. Connectivity is at the heart of a successful Internet of Things deployment, however, and the level of visibility and control needed to maintain a well-functioning ecosystem means the enterprise will have to look beyond its own infrastructure and into that of third-party providers, telecom carriers, cellular services and even the home itself.

You might not need full control of this diverse collection, but you’ll at least need to know what is happening out there.

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