The Internet of Things (IoT) is a great vision, As outlined here, a fully interconnected world with full communications and data transparency would provide incredible efficiencies and convenience for everyone — whether they’re searching for a parking space, monitoring one’s health, or running a global business.
While many vendors are trying to enable IoT as part of their business strategy, IoT is too sweeping of a concept for any one vendor. However, individual and groups of vendors are making great strides in enabling IoT layer by layer and component by component. For this blog, we’ll look at the networking strides needed to make IoT happen.
Making the Vision Concrete
To make the vision more concrete, it can be described in terms of “Internet of x” components. Each component interoperates as shown in the figure above.
Internet of Protocols (IoP) enables instructions to be sent over the network to the end device. At this point, various protocols within the data center — such as Fiber Channel — are well understood as well as options for encapsulating this traffic into an IP-based network. Further, protocols such as MPLS for WAN communication networks are widespread. Cross-vendor protocols are now emerging within the home so that devices there can communicate efficiently without requiring an outside Internet Protocol (IP) connection. For example, a multi-vendor consortium is developing a home-based protocol called Thread. While IP is a great unifying protocol, it is extremely likely that other, overlapping protocols will not only be developed but also exist side by side with IP for some time into the future. As long as the protocols are standardized, if not open, they will enable IoP.
Internet of Gateways is needed to connect MPLS, IP, and home networks as well as to interoperate among public and private clouds. For example, a gateway (customer premise equipment, or CPE) device typically is used to interface between IP and MPLS networks. In the home, a smart thermostat can act as the gateway device for IP communications. For public amenities such as smart meters, the gateway functionality is typically built into the meter. However, many CPE devices today are built with proprietary communications standards. To enable true interoperation, gateways must be built with open standards to enable management across layers and across vendors.
All of these diverse networks and constructs must have efficient management to interconnect, much less operate. Further, the management overlay must include prioritization capabilities or someone’s heart attack alert will be swamped out by device status updates. That’s where the Internet of Management (IoM) becomes critical. To scale, as well as to fit organizational models, the IoM layer must be able to manage all the relevant networks and gateway devices from central and regional locations. The IoM must be able to manage across IP-based public and private clouds, MPLS networks, and emerging home networks. A priority-based scheme for classes of devices, such as heart monitors, must ensure fast and consistent performance. Further, the IoM has to include a unifying security scheme to prevent, for example, an infected refrigerator from compromising an entire enterprise!
How SDN and NFV Are Part of IoM
Two enablers – network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) – are critical to the Internet of Management (IoM). NFV treats network functions as building blocks that can be connected as part of a network service, such as monitoring your home’s environment from your smartphone or your branch from headquarters. SDN enables efficient provisioning, management, and metering of networks. A true IoM would need to encompass both NFV and SDN in a unified manner.
Further, IoM requires support for all gateway and CPE devices. Via support of a unifying protocol (such as BGP for IP) and other protocols utilized in CPE devices, IoM would be able to interconnect and manage all necessary communication and gateway devices.
Adding It Up: IoP → IoG → IoM → IoT
With protocols for gateway and CPE devices becoming open (IoP), gateways can connect into the appropriate network for transport (IoG). The ability to manage, interconnect, and secure networks and clouds (IoM) is then enabled. And, with the ability to manage all gateways and networks, the Internet of Things (IoT) takes a huge leap forward.