Buffing up the network for the Internet of Things

August 15, 2014 OpenSystems Media

As smart gadgets pour into the market, growth projections are jaw-dropping. One research company is predicting as many as 212 billion connected devices in the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020. Network architects and administrators share a mounting concern: How can we effectively manage the oncoming tsunami of data?

The smart mobile era arrives
Smart mobility changed everything, but it was advancements in wireless connectivity like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Smart that truly freed the genie from the bottle. Today, smartphones, notebooks, tablets, and other mobile devices provide the processing power to run a myriad of smart gadgets. Technology is literally all around us, and even inside our bodies.

Wearable technology is catching on like wildfire, particularly products like smart watches and wristbands that support health and fitness goals. Advances in healthcare include a minuscule implant that senses a forthcoming heart attack and alerts the smartphone to call for help. The home environment is another hot market for smart products that monitor, meter, sense, track, report, and alert. Intelligent gadgets are showing up everywhere, whether from crowd-funded entrepreneurs or the Fortune 500.

The inevitable network strain
It isn’t difficult to imagine the network strain when billions of devices are generating and consuming data that must be moved quickly and efficiently. As early as 2017, Cisco Global Cloud Index anticipates 7.7 zettabytes of annual global data center IP traffic. A zettabyte is 1 byte times 10 to the 21st power – in other words, a massive amount of data.

Fortunately, the widespread adoption of Ethernet connectivity also offers a major advantage. As the trusted standard for decades, Ethernet provides a secure underlying networking layer – not only for IoT but also for the operating systems and software applications that run them. Scalable Ethernet has already migrated from 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) to 40 and is headed for 100 Gbps capacity.

Ethernet connects the dots
Even from this vantage point, it’s clear that network architectural innovations and powerful new virtualization technologies will be redefining the very way data centers function. However, considering the crucial, pervasive role that Ethernet plays in this unprecedented network build-up, the Internet of Things may seem more like the Ethernet of Things:

Service provider networks – Today Ethernet is the preferred technology for building out service provider networks. Wireless backhaul, broadband aggregation, metro, and core networks all rely on Ethernet for capacity, low latency, and economics to carry the ever increasing traffic loads. An Ethernet Services Fabric ties together the devices to the data centers that provide the applications and analytics. This provides a flexible and expandable fabric, capable of tackling rising bandwidth requirements.

Software-defined networking (SDN) – The emerging architecture of SDN separates the network control from forwarding function, enabling administrators to directly program network control and abstract the underlying infrastructure for applications and network services. SDN software programs make it possible to quickly configure, manage, secure, and optimize the network, adjusting traffic flow around changing needs. This “centralized intelligence” provides a global network view and appears as a single, logical switch to applications and policy engines. Cost-effective SDN can be open-standards based and vendor neutral, simplifying network design while improving manageability, coordination, and control. Programmable, low latency, high-performing Ethernet switches are ideally suited to SDN, serving as the very fabric of Internet and data centers.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) – Complementary to SDN architecture, NFV is a new way to design, deploy, and manage networking services. NFV decouples entire classes of network functions from proprietary hardware appliances like routers or switches so they can run in software. Using standard IT virtualization technologies, NFV “virtualizes” these functions into building blocks that can be linked to create communication services. Applicable to any data plane processing or control plane function in wired and wireless network infrastructures, NFV makes Ethernet networks even more scalable, agile, and efficient.

Cloud computing – The virtualization of networks, storage, and servers is reshaping the way organizations use IT. Cloud computing plays an essential role in this process, providing Internet access to complex applications and massive computing resources. “The cloud” delivers the additional capacity required to satisfy growing demand to an enterprise or small business from a third party, giving organizations a way to crank up capacity without investing in a new IT structure. Being able to host processing and data in the cloud frees network administrators to relocate that capacity to geographic locations where the data is being created, as well as control the devices generating the data. A well-designed Ethernet network delivers the low latency and high bandwidth required by cloud computing to deliver the full value of its efficiencies.

Big Data – As more things connect to the Internet and to each other, today’s data management tools and traditional applications will fall short of the precise analytics needed for the ever-growing, massive, complex data sets called Big Data. Innovations like SDN, NFV, and cloud computing are poised to converge in a way that will allow networks to capture, curate, manage, and process Big Data – all within a tolerable elapsed time. Once again, Ethernet with its high-capacity, low-latency capabilities is ideal for interconnecting the servers that will be crunching Big Data.

Green data center – As data centers grow in size and complexity, energy costs soar and efficiency suffers. In 2012, the New York Times reported that data centers might be wasting as much as 90 percent of the electricity provided by the local electric utility. The migration to more energy-efficient and higher-capacity Ethernet connectivity will go a long way toward greening up data centers. One study shows that a network migrating from 1 GB to 10 GB Energy Efficient Ethernet could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 3.5 million metric tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road, eliminating the need for 1.3 billion gallons of gasoline and 27 million barrels of oil.

The stage is set
Along with Ethernet connectivity at 10 Gbps and even faster speeds, network automation tools such as SDN, NFV, and others will deliver the dynamic, agile, efficient networking foundation on which the software layer for IoT devices will be running. Wireless connectivity devices complement the physical network by expanding network connections.

As the IoT revolution unfurls, these exceptional technologies and others will be in place, ensuring end users the fullest possible benefit from billions and billions and billions of products and gadgets.

Nicholas (Nick) Ilyadis serves as Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of Broadcom’s Infrastructure and Networking Group (ING), responsible for product strategy and cross portfolio initiatives for a broad portfolio of Ethernet chip products including Network Switch, High Speed Controllers, PHY, Enterprise WLAN, SerDes, Processors and Security.

Prior to Broadcom, Ilyadis served as Vice President of Engineering for Enterprise Data Products at Nortel Networks and held various engineering positions at Digital Equipment Corporation and Itek Optical Systems. Ilyadis holds an MSEE from the University of New Hampshire and a BTEE from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Nicholas Ilyadis, Broadcom Corporation
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