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Q&A: How SDN is helping make IoT a reality

Jean Turgeon, Chief Technologist at Avaya, speaks to IT Pro Portal about how SDN is making IoT a reality, the security challenges it has given rise to and the benefits available if businesses learn how to make the most out of the technology.   

The Internet of Things is starting to impact our daily lives with innovations like Amazon Dash. What role does next generation networking, like SDN, play in making the IoT a reality?   
With IDC predicting a 53.9 per cent increase in the global SDN market from 2014 to 2020, it’s clear that SDN is set to make a major impact on our lives – if it hasn’t already. If you look at the central promises of SDN that are regularly being discussed, it’s all about automation, orchestration and simplification. This boils down to higher business continuity capabilities and SDN has transformed the networking industry in this respect.    

The market now needs to focus on networking technologies and standards that can deliver this level of automation here and now, such as zero-touch provisioning capabilities, allowing a great deal of agility due to the millions of devices now in play across the world. Legacy systems can make this almost impossible, but SDN helps businesses to adapt to this environment and thrive.  

With so many objects connecting to the network, security must be a concern. To what degree are consumers and businesses aware of the security implications of the IOT?   
Visibility is increasing every week and so too are network compromises - from healthcare to finance, it’s affecting any and every industry.    

Both businesses and consumers are exposed due to the massive amount of static configuration that is activated on most legacy architectures. This makes it possible to disconnect devices that are attached to a system, before reattaching another device and having access to the same network.    

Evidently, this is not ideal for businesses or consumers. So, to move forward with a secure, workable IoT, we actually need to put the brakes on an industry that is set to be worth almost $12.5bn in 4 years, revisit the whole foundation and look at delivering some level of segmentation across different services. Let me explain what I mean. Wearable devices for example, access a variety of different apps, so we need to segment and securely isolate devices and services so there is no navigation possible - meaning you can’t hop across networks, making it safer and more secure.   

It is also important to remove the exposure of static configuration, while ensuring elasticity. This means that, services should be extended to any device or application for example, but should also have the ability to re-track once the service is no longer consumed.    It’s time definitely time for a change in the approach to IOT security and as businesses – and consumers – become more aware of this, the possibilities will continue to be explored, ultimately making for a safer IoT.   

What are the relevant networking standards and are they actually of any use?   
We firmly believe at Avaya that standardisation of a protocol, to be used upon delivery of networking services is a must. SDN was intended to be an open ecosystem, but more and more vendors are coming up with proprietary schemes.   

Avaya has instead chosen to create a matrix based architecture, making it more reliable and agile as well as driving a greater deal of simplification. This also guarantees interoperability and integration with other vendors.   

The higher level of control enabled by SDN solves the problem of vendor specific policies. You simply have to configure a policy once and it can be applied automatically across the entire network.   

What is next and what should businesses be doing today to ensure that they are ready in terms of security for the IoT?   
I would say that what’s next has already arrived. Businesses need to start making hyper-segmentation a reality and begin deploying it, in order to reap its rewards. If companies are looking to deploy IoT soon, a legacy infrastructure should not stand in their way. They can take advantage of SDN and run the existing infrastructure simultaneously, whilst not compromising security. Essentially this is a win-win situation for them.    

This implementation is what I see coming next, along with the use of specific services and apps such as Stealth. This technology enables organisations to create hyper-segments within their networks that are invisible to hackers and provide the elasticity to protect the ‘everywhere perimeter’.    

The reality is, companies don’t need to change their whole infrastructure. They just need to focus on creating an entry and exit point. My advice to network managers: determine where the service is offered - in the cloud or in a data centre. Then establish secure virtual network connectivity between this location and the IoT. If network managers follow these steps, they will be able to take advantage of what is on offer.   

But most importantly, if they haven’t already, businesses need to think about how to create a coherent IoT strategy that is flexible, scalable and secure from the outset.

Image source: Shutterstock/a-image
Jean Turgeon, Vice President & Chief Technologist for Software Defined Architecture, Worldwide Sales, Avaya

Jean Turgeon (JT) is Vice President & Chief Technologist for Software Defined Architecture (SDA), Worldwide Sales in Avaya, a global provider of business collaboration and communications solutions.