IoT Connectivity Challenges? SD-WAN to the Rescue

The closer the enterprise gets to full-fledged Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, the more obvious it becomes that SD-WAN technology will be the crucial lynchpin to successful operations.

The challenge of pushing data connectivity to the edge is well known by now. Current MPLS-based architectures cannot provide the scalability or the flexibility required of IoT workloads — at least not at a reasonable cost. SD-WAN solves this problem by abstracting network architectures over the wide area to accommodate the dynamic and highly complex data patterns generated by legions of connected devices.

According to ZK Research’s Zeus Kerrala, the key advantage SD-WAN brings to IoT infrastructure is the ability to connect endpoints in remote locations. The technology can operate over virtually any underlying topography, including broadband, cellular and Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) networks. At the same time, it allows administrators to manage network services from a central or regional hub in ways that tightly integrate network services across the various device-, gateway- and cloud-tier architectures that will make up most IoT deployments.

This is the primary reason why both telecom providers and WAN platform vendors are quickly shoring up their SD-WAN capabilities. Riverbed recently acquired a company called Xirrus that specializes in enterprise-grade WiFi connectivity. The idea is to incorporate Xirrus into the SteelConnect SD-WAN solution to allow the enterprise to push its IoT edge all the way to the consumer device. Under Xirrus’ architecture, multiple WiFi access points are housed in a single chassis, with traffic handled by an internal switc. All of this is controlled by a cloud-hosted application. At the moment, however, it is unclear exactly how this will be incorporated into the SteelConnect appliance.

SD-WAN is also highly adept at utilizing network data and analytics to provide optimum connectivity, says Ed Fox, vice president of network services at MetTel. Most solutions offer real-time reporting and historical data analysis right out of the box, giving the enterprise unprecedented visibility into external infrastructure and operations. And through tools like System Log Data Correlation, network managers — and even users — can identify and isolate performance-degrading issues long before they start to disrupt services.

Despite these advantages, however, enterprises will likely see varying degrees of success in their SD-WAN deployments depending on how they are designed and implemented. In an interview with Telecom TV, Cato Networks CTO Gur Shatz argues that a managed SD-WAN service from a telco may be easy to implement but will most likely be tied to legacy MPLS infrastructure, which leads to load management complexity and other issues. On the other hand, an all-Internet solution will likely suffer from poor routing performance – at least for the time being. What’s needed, he says, is a solution that mixes intelligent load balancing with a highly dynamic backbone. This should enable tight integration of network elements and simplified deployment to create the equivalent of the “AWS of networking.”

Still, it will probably take some time before all the kinks are worked out of IoT-facing SD-WAN architectures. Since time is of the essence in the enterprise’s transformation into a digital services entity, it’s probably not a good idea to pass on the good enough in the hopes that the ideal is right around the corner.

With IoT workloads expected to ramp up quickly, the primary objective right now should be to implement a software-defined infrastructure that can grow and evolve as workloads require. There should be plenty of time for fine-tuning once you understand the precise nature of your IoT traffic.

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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