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How an SD-WAN helps unlock more value from the IoT

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How an SD-WAN helps unlock more value from the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) is big and getting bigger all the time. According to data compiled by Statista, the IoT encompassed over 26 billion connected devices at the end of 2019 and is expected to cross the 75 million threshold by 2025. What’s more, its size at the start of 2020 already exceeded the projections from just a few years prior. In 2015, IT research firm Gartner had projected “only” 21 billion devices by 2020.

As the IoT expands, it will put much more pressure on corporate wide area networks (WANs), many of which were not architected with the IoT’s vast scale in mind. IoT devices will generate considerable amounts of traffic at the network edge and also open up new security vulnerabilities. To ensure that their WANs are future-proof, organizations should consider the implementation of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions.

Why Traditional WANs Aren’t Enough in the IoT Era 

The typical old-fashioned WAN is built on top of MPLS links. MPLS became a WAN mainstay for a reason - it provides dependable performance by avoiding complex router table lookups, plus it works with a variety of network protocols. But it’s poorly suited for supporting the traffic flows of IoT devices in particular, for several reasons:

  •       Insufficient capacity: MPLS links are expensive compared to regular broadband and thus difficult to scale. As a result, many MPLS WANs are very thin, with not nearly enough bandwidth to support the amount of traffic coming from IoT infrastructure as well as the cloud applications they frequently connect to.
  •       Lack of resilience: With all or most of their eggs in the MPLS basket, many legacy WANs just aren’t resilient enough in the event of a performance bottleneck, cyberattack, or other crisis. IoT devices may become unavailable or underperform for hours, negating their value in critical domains like manufacturing and logistics.
  •       Security: Implementing IoT devices en masse means opening up the network edge to a ton of new traffic, a lot of it malicious. Indeed, IoT devices account for a disproportionate share of malware introduced into WANs. Most WANs don’t have a good way of solving this issue except by hairpinning all traffic through a data center, which creates performance issues.
  •       No cloud optimization: MPLS predates the mainstream rise of cloud computing by many years. As such it isn’t a great fit for the modern SaaS and IaaS solutions that support IoT devices. Data center backhauling - the main security mechanism of an MPLS-based WAN - can noticeably degrade cloud app performance.

On all of these issues, an SD-WAN is superior to a conventional WAN, with security being perhaps its most decisive and discussed advantage. Let’s look at why SD-WAN is a prudent investment for any organization with significant IoT infrastructure planned or already in place.

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Analyzing the SD-WAN Difference in the IoT

Traditional WANs require a huge dropoff in application performance in exchange for proper security across the network. SD-WANs don’t force this same Faustian bargain.

Traffic Steering

For starters, SD-WANs allow for much more granular control of traffic at the edge. Instead of backhauling everything to the data center or HQ just to be safe, an SD-WAN can precisely steer traffic in accordance with policies that apply to certain IoT devices and apps. An SD-WAN can be set so that a smart meter, embedded sensor, or networked appliance can have its traffic treated in a specific way based on its risk profile.

Cloud Integrations

Moreover, SD-WAN solutions may integrate with cloud security services. This integration allows for safe, direct connections between the WAN and popular applications such as Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365. 

These security features mitigate the considerable risk from IoT devices. Many of them are vulnerable to attacks or at the very least publicly accessible. The search engine Shodan, which is connected to numerous IP cameras and other devices worldwide, shows how widespread this problem is. Since they’re so simple, they may also lack the ability to reach patches or software updates fixing critical flaws such as the Krack exploit in WPA2 Wi-Fi security.

Network Management

Beyond these specific security benefits, an SD-WAN makes it generally easier to see and manage the entire network, so that IoT devices don’t slip out of sight and cause problems. Administrators can have a single configuration change in software rolled out seamlessly across the WAN, without technicians needing to physically go out to many different locations and update the routers there accordingly. SD-WANs are highly automated and streamlined, making them ideal for handling the scale and rapid expansion of IoT infrastructure.

Scalable Bandwidth

Speaking of which, SD-WANs can better accommodate the growth of IoT devices thanks to support for MPLS alternatives. An SD-WAN may use broadband, cellular, or satellite internet in addition to or instead of MPLS. These modes of transport are more economical, can be scaled up more easily, and are also usable as backup circuits for increased resiliency.

Want to get started with an SD-WAN implementation? Telesystem has you covered, with an SD-WAN platform that complements our other portfolio solutions. Contact our team to learn more.

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