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[ARTICLE] The Evolution and Mutual Benefits of IoT, SDN and Edge Computing

Bas Evers, Emerging Technologies Director, System Engineering, Radiant

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We are living in exciting times where the digital innovations materialized by EDGE Computing, SDN, and IoT applications are translating into significant business use cases. By 2025, the Edge Computing market is expected to be worth $3.24 billion with 26 billion smart devices generating at least 500 ZB of data a year.

From the administrative processes in factories to the power grids in Smart Cities, everything is being transformed by these technologies’ high-powered computing and networking capabilities.

Technology experts and evangelists often pose the question, “Which technology is actually driving industry?”

However, from an operational viewpoint, these technologies are mutually exclusive while simultaneously relying on each other to deliver a high-scale and powerful performance.

How IoT, EDGE Computing, & SDN are Connected

EDGE Computing provides an open platform to perform management, analysis, control, and data processing tasks at the network edge for IoT. This meets the connection, computing, storage, and application installation needs of things that sense conditions and control actions.

Stu Bailey, the founder and CTO of Infoblox, says, “The Internet of Things is a major driver for SDN. If you have a lot of things, then the most important inhibitor is complexity. The only material that we have to combat an increasing complexity in IT systems is software. There won’t be an Internet of Things without software-defined networks.”

SDN cost-effectively virtualizes IoT networks to enable automatic traffic rerouting, device reconfiguration, and bandwidth allocation to boost performance and reduce complexity. Some clear benefits are greater network transparency through automated security threat detection, security policies application, and access control. SDN promotes the centralized management of sensors, terminals, communication modules, IoT gateways, and other devices while supporting automatic deployment, security authentication, status monitoring, and remote upgrades.

Why IoT, SDN and EDGE Computing Need Each Other 

In the current technological scenario, we are witnessing a tremendous increase in the connection of heterogeneous devices and the need to control them remotely using reliable IoT. As historically evidenced, devices that hold vital data and are connected to a network are vulnerable to hacking and illegal monitoring. Thus, the security of these devices becomes paramount, especially when IoT is turning into “super-heterogeneous networks” in a complex environment.

The exponential growth of internet-connected devices in the past, along with the increasing need for real-time computing, continues to drive edge-computing systems. The following growth trend from Business Insider shows how IoT (estimated number of connected devices) has benefited from Edge Technology Solutions in the past.

On the premise of rapid computing capabilities, Edge computing systems accelerate the creation or support of real-time applications, such as video processing and analytics, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, robotics, and more. The following image depicts how the SDN market will grow over the next 5 years, due to increased network traffic and complex data streaming.

Thus, IoT, SDN, and Edge Computing form important points of the influential technology triangle that drive modern digital transformations.

The key advantages of these three technologies determine how they complement each other.

IoTSDNEdge Computing
Real-time access to data and
information sitting on remote
network devices.
Streamlined enterprise management and provisioning resulting from centralized network provisioning.Reduced network latency by having compute, storage and network resources closer to the application.
Transparent and efficient communication of network devices to produce faster and accurate results.SDN offers a central point of control to distribute security and policy information consistently throughout the enterprise.Application Scalability through decentralized compute and storage resources.
Process automation based on
business logic to reduce errors,
human intervention,
turnaround time, and costs.
SDN promotes lower costs through administrative efficiency, improvements in server utilization, and better control of virtualization.Distributed networks that need reduced bandwidth leading to reduced costs.
Enhanced & continuous data
collection through data
streaming mechanisms.
Cloud abstraction and unified resource management made easy through SDN controllers.Distributed networks that offer enhanced security and data protection to data stored in different locations.

These advantages allow these technologies to be a significant part of different industries’ IoT ecosystem. Read more about individual IOT use cases in our following blog.

Historic Milestones of IoT, SDN, and Edge Computing

The history of SDN, IoT, and Edge computing has bearing on implementation in modern-day applications.


SDN started in 1878 when the first commercial telephone exchange was installed. Then in 1891, Almon Strowger invented a telephone dial, where data (voice) and control (dial pulses) were transmitted over the same insecure channel (telephone wire) to the phone exchange system.

Later in 1963, Bell labs introduced “Touch Tone” to its customers, replacing the mechanical rotary dial system with DTMF tones. However, the DTMF signals shared the same channel as data. In early 1980, the data (voice) and control (DTMF) were separated by the introduction of Central Network Control points. This allowed for new services such as Alternative Billing Services (ABS), Private Virtual Networks (PVN), SMS, Follow Me, 800 numbers, Calling Cards, etc.

In the ’90s, the active network was introduced. An active network is a network in which the nodes are programmed to perform custom operations on the messages that pass through the node. Later in the ’90s, Network Virtualization allowed rapid deployment of new applications where SDN separated the control and data planes to enable centralized control, allow automation, and create a programmable network. NFV virtualizes the components of the network, and SDN centralizes the control of those components.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Industrial Internet of Things

IIoT started in the late 1960s when Dick Morley introduced Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) to General Motors for their automatic transmission manufacturing division. The rise of “ubiquitous computing” (pervasive computing, often considered the successor to mobile computing) in the 1970’s caused wireless communication and networking technologies, mobile devices, embedded systems, wearable computers, radio frequency ID (RFID) tags, middleware and software agents to come about. Internet capabilities, voice recognition, and artificial intelligence (AI) are often also included in this list.

Ubiquitous computing was pioneered at the Olivetti Research Laboratory in Cambridge. Active Badge, a “clip-on computer” the size of an employee ID card, was created in order to let the company track people’s location in a building, as well as the objects to which they were attached.

With the introduction of Ethernet in 1980, people began to explore the concept of a network of smart devices. A modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University became the first internet-connected appliance.

The actual term “Internet of Things” was coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999 while presenting a new exciting technology called RFID. The combination of this and the trending internet somehow made sense, to be called the “Internet of Things.”

The potential effect of the IoT on the global economy led Chinese leaders to designate IoT as a priority area for development in 2009. China subsequently took steps to catalyze domestic IoT research and development (R&D) and infrastructure development through robust planning initiatives and extensive financial support, which led to steep growth in its GDP in the past nine years. This makes China the largest consumer of the IoT technology currently.

In 2012, Gartner included a new emerging phenomenon on their Hype cycle of emerging technologies, “The Internet of Things”. Around that time, popular tech-focused magazines like Forbes, Fast Company, and Wired starting used IoT around their vocabulary to promote technological innovation and the newest trend in the interconnected world.

Gartner Hype Cycle 2012

Edge Computing

Edge computing means different things for different industries. For a manufacturer, “Edge Computing” means that the data is processed before it crosses any wide area network (WAN), and therefore is NOT processed in a traditional data center, whether it be on a private or public cloud.

Edge computing is the latest term for decentralized computing. A distributed computing paradigm brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed to improve response times and saves bandwidth.

The underlying technology behind Edge has been evolving for decades.

Edge computing can be traced back to 1990 when the first Content Delivery Network (CDN) originated from Akamai. This network delivered cached images and videos using distributed servers located closer to the end-user. In 1997, Pervasive Computing (also known as Ubiquitous Computing), which is the technology behind IoT, started to appear, which offloaded excessive resource-consuming applications to local servers.

In the early 2000s, the overlay Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks leveraged proximity routing to avoid slow downloads over long-distance servers. Around 2006, the first public cloud computing with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) was introduced where computing and storage resources could be easily rented out. In 2009, Cloudlet, a mobility-enhanced mini cloud data center to support resource-intensive mobile applications, was introduced. In 2010, Cisco introduced Fog Computing, where a distributed cloud uses intelligent edge nodes to perform a large amount of computation, storage, and communication.

These technologies can accomplish greater digital transformations individually and in the right combination.

Connect with our experts to implement your business use cases with the right combination of these technologies.

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