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A Creative Combination of SDN and the IoT

Although the Internet of Things (IoT) is bringing enormous benefits with its wide range of terminal devices and intelligent applications, many obstacles have the potential to slow its progress. However, people swayed by IoT service values may have a tendency to ignore certain complexities. Traditional IoT architectures are not known for efficient management or real-time data processing due to massive numbers of terminals and gateways that populate the field. With this constraint, deploying IoT platforms at scale by industry users is difficult.

Huawei has developed the world’s first Software-Defined Networking (SDN)-based agile IoT solution that combines SDN architecture with agile IoT gateways and the Agile Controller. Huawei’s Agile IoT solution provides a better approach to management and deployment, driving industries toward the rapid implementation of the IoT’s scaled deployments. To face the complexity and scale of IoT deployments, the following features were considered:

  • Management Support for Multiple Terminals: Huawei predicts that two million sensors will be deployed every hour by 2025 — over 10 times the number deployed today. Intelligent terminals and gateways, including sensors, controllers, and numerous applications, require unified management components.
  • Effective Local Decision and Response: Delays in decisions and responses are costly. Edge devices can process large amounts of data from on-site devices and determine which data should be uploaded to the cloud and which requires local processing. This method reduces the costs of data transmission and ensures real-time responses for critical services. However, on-site production environments are complex and volatile, and edge devices are numerous and scattered. Manual configuration and the loading of application and service components can no longer keep pace with quick decisions and responses during production.

Interworking of IoT Applications across Diverse Industries: Siloed IoT solutions that do not interact with industry services are often impractical. Service requirements, interfaces, protocols, and standards vary from industry to industry; therefore, better interworking of IoT applications across industries is critical.

SDN eliminates the restrictions of traditional network architectures by isolating the control and data planes of network devices. SDN supports sets of functions that include centralized management and automatic network planning, deployment, operation, and maintenance. SDN has remodeled the IoT architecture to provide a flexible, scalable, dynamic, and open network for scaling IoT deployments.

Unifying Management, Control, and Expansion

The Agile Controller is the core component for the centralized control and management of entire networks. It is responsible for the unified management of IoT terminals, IoT gateways, computing resources, protocols, applications, and data. By combining Geographic Information System (GIS) visual management with dynamic network topology components, the Agile Controller supports plug-and-play for numerous devices and also provides End-to-End (E2E) normalized management and control.

The Agile Controller supports virtualization-based distributed deployment and dynamic reallocation of virtualized resources based on the required scale of different IoT applications. It manages and controls tens of millions of IoT terminals to satisfy the management and deployment requirements of numerous devices.

Flexible Edge Decision Making and Responses

Agile IoT gateways capable of distributed edge computing play a critical role in processing IoT traffic, and edge devices may process up to 40 percent of IoT traffic by 2020. Using integrated computing and resource storage, edge devices are capable of providing rapid decisions when processing local traffic to ensure real-time handling of various production operations. However, agile IoT gateways still require the support of the Agile Controller.

The adoption of an SDN architecture with an Agile Controller will not require on-site manual configuration. This guarantees few difficulties when deploying computing, storage, and application resources on edge devices. Because SDN supports a programmable IoT network architecture, service components are predefined with different strategies and control functions for service flow control. For example, SDN triggers dynamic and on-demand component loading based on the onsite service flows, sector by sector and region by region. This process ensures automated planning and deployment of application resources for multiple edge devices to deliver immediate responses to complex production situations.

Open Interworking with Applications in Multiple Industries

Open interfaces distinguish SDN from traditional IoT architectures. Agile Controllers provide multiple programming interfaces (APIs and eSDKs) for upper-layer network applications that allow IoT applications in various industries to invoke the capabilities of underlying network devices and conduct data subscription and allocation. These interfaces have laid the foundation for scaled IoT deployments in different industries that enable collaboration between partners to further develop specific applications.

IoT Teams Up with SDN

IoT environments are open ecosystems that require close cooperation among different fields. Empowered by SDN, agile IoT platforms are being deployed in ‘smart’ buildings, ‘smart’ grids, connected city lighting, and onboard management.

For example, the connected city lighting solution centralizes management and control for large numbers of road lamps, and adds SDN-based multi-class control. SDN control components include time- and location-based lighting fixtures with different policies hosted by the Agile Controller. The controller collaborates with a built-in GIS management platform to dynamically load these components to roadside edge devices by districts. Should a fault occur on the control network, the SDN system will automatically detect the problem and rapidly switch to a predefined local control mode. The local override of central control saves electric power consumption by up to 80 percent by deactivating road lamps during the day. The SDN open architecture supports seamless access to smart devices like traffic and environment monitoring equipment and charging poles.

SDN provides services such as vehicle management and data statistics over standard interfaces. These interfaces enable SDN to interconnect with third-party service platforms — that through the Agile Controller — achieve the unified management of thousands of vehicles, including city and school buses, and commercial trucks. These connected devices are equipped with many differentiated onboard services, including onboard surveillance, Wi-Fi, and security.

Applications vary among manufacturing energy, and onboard services. IoT service providers must collaborate with partners in various fields to explore the true service requirements for each market, adopt SDN architectures to rebuild service chains, and plan specific services and application flows based on service changes at the necessary deployment scale for each industry.

By Li Xianyin

General Manager, Enterprise Gateway Domain, Enterprise Network Product Line, Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.