SD-WAN and IoT: A Long Road Ahead

Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto

•SD-WAN products are well suited to address the complexity and scale of IoTAs diversity in IoT grows.

• SD-WAN vendors will be challenged to address the specific needs of new and increasingly specialized IoT products.

Commercial IoT networking in the short term is more about connecting and protecting IoT devices and gateways that are already deployed, or will be soon, rather than having to support a raft of new, IP addressable devices. The IoT name has been equally applied to what otherwise are called sensor networks, command networks, industrial Ethernet, and other network-attached devices. SCADA devices certainly fall into this realm. The difference being that these devices are being connected—on purpose or inadvertently—to public networks and exposing them to the potential for additional attacks.
One of the benefits of SD-WAN, outside of data center and cloud connectivity, is consolidating all of the functions necessary such as network encryption, physical path selection, policy based controls, robust routing and so on to interconnect remote offices into a secure network over the Internet while at the same time significantly reducing operational management. Don’t believe me? Check out the demos of some of the vendors such as Certes, Cisco (actually, Glue Networks), Cloudgenix, Nuage, Silver Peak, Talari, Velcocloud or Viptela and see for yourself.

Like chocolate covered bacon, the combination of IoT networking and SD-WAN makes a lot of sense after you think about (or try it). Commercial IoT deployments feature large numbers of devices which adds management burden; are often deployed in remote locations where it’s expensive to send a technician for when problems occur; are using multiple access methods spanning wired and wireless networks to connect home; and can have weak or no security protections–which is especially true for legacy IoT deployments. Most, if not all of the SD-WAN products on the market today can address each of those issues.

However, most SD-WAN products aren’t deployable in the field at scale because of licensing costs, which can be quite high as the number of locations are increases. Perhaps more importantly, the hardware is not hardened for outdoor or hazardous locations. Water, heat, vibration, and electro-mechanical interference are some of the hazards IoT devices and associated gear face in the field. There’s three ways SD-WAN vendors can create hardened hardware:
• Develop its own hardware which is costly to do and certify.
• Partner with an OEM that specializes in hardened devices, which can reduce development costs and speed time to market.
• Partner with IoT vendors and/or integrators deploying IoT and add the SD-WAN components to existing hardware.

Partnering with IoT vendors and integrators poses the path of least friction for customers because there’s no need to plan for additional hardware that may require specialized mounting, power, cabling, and so on, at the site. This poses the most difficult challenges for SD-WAN vendors due to sheer variety of IoT vendors and the associated hardware platforms and capabilities used in IoT product lines.
Until there is broad industry agreement around hardware platforms similar to what the Open Compute Project is doing with data center hardware, SD-WAN vendor support will be fragmented and pose an additional hurdle for customers wanting to leverage their new or existing SD-WAN investments for multiple use cases.

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