Core Networking Considerations for the IoT

Most of the networking concerns surrounding Internet of Things (IoT) deployments focus on the edge. This is to be expected because the edge will house much of the data and analytics processes.

But the IoT is also going to affect core networks in the data center. Key workloads, some of which will be quite large, will have to come back to central data systems for macro analysis and management purposes, and this is already producing changes in the way organizations are designing and deploying their core networks.

HPE’s Aruba division recently released a new core switch, the Aruba 8400, that attempts to match the intelligent capabilities on the edge with corresponding visibility, automation and performance in the data center. The device will run the new ArubaOS-CX operating system to provide a purpose-built network environment for emerging mobile and cloud business applications and the dynamic traffic they will likely generate. The switch is fully programmable with a built-in Python interpreter and REST-based APIs to enable rapid and flexible scalability. It can be configured in a two-chassis design under the Virtual Switching Framework (VSF) to provide more than 500 10-GbE ports, 128 40-GbE ports or 96 100-GbE ports.

But convincing enterprise executives to revamp their own core networks might be a challenge when providers like Google are offering ways to do it in the cloud. The company recently launched the Google Cloud IoT Core service that combines existing services like Cloud Dataflow and BitQuery to provide a ready-made environment for core IoT data needs. The service provides multiple options for physical layer infrastructure, such as ARM, Intel and Sierra Wireless technology, plus various app-building environments like Helium and Losant. The primary advantage is that Google can put a working IoT environment in place quickly and at low cost and then provide continuous upgrades at a much faster pace than the enterprise can maintain on its own.

One thing is certain about core IoT networking: it cannot rely on the same architectural designs of traditional data environments. Researchers at the Nigeria’s Federal University of Technology, Owerri, have devised a scheme that leverages fog computing and a spine-leaf network topology to optimize bandwidth for centralized big data operations. Their SL-FCN approach replaces existing multi-layered architectures to reduce latency and network congestion both within the data center and to the edge. Using technologies like Smart Sensing, Processing and Actuation (SSPA) and Smart Stream Processing (SSP), the team says it can enable extreme scalability, reduce data movement and even improve security. They admit, however, that as a Layer 3 routing solution, it might cause VLAN microsegments on one leaf switch might to be inaccessible by other leaf instances.

Effective IoT switching will also depend largely on the messaging protocols you use, says Solace Systems’ Young Kwon. Multiple protocols will likely exist across the IoT fabric, each of which will bring specialized capabilities for the traffic patterns that characterize a particular link. For instance, MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) features a lightweight API and small message headers, so it is more appropriate for device-to-gateway communications rather than intra- or inter-data center links. On the other hand, Java Messaging Service (JMS) is already widely embedded in commercial and open source application servers and message brokers, so it would do well between the gateway and the data center or between data centers, provided you’re OK with its lack of multi-vendor interoperability. Other protocols include REST, AMQP, CoAP and DDS, each of which carries its own set of pros and cons for any given networking environment.

These new core networking requirements offer further evidence that the IoT is not just another layer of an already complex enterprise ecosystem. It is, in fact, an entirely new data paradigm that will change the way we work, communicate and interact with the world around us.

The edge will certainly bear new responsibilities as this infrastructure unfolds, but it will be a re-imagined core that holds it all together.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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