Avaya more than a year ago significantly expanded its efforts in the network virtualization space, introducing a network architecture that spans from the data center to the network edge and designed to make it easier to connect devices and people to the network.
The software-defined networking (SDN) Fx architecture works with Avaya’s Fabric Connect technology and includes the vendor’s Open Networking Adapter (ONA), an Internet of things (IoT) gateway based on the open-source Open vSwitch technology that offers a simple and secure network connection for devices that have an Ethernet port.
Avaya officials last week announced the release of ONA 1.0 with an initial focus on the healthcare industry, a highly regulated space seeing a massive proliferation of connected devices. Hospitals and other facilities are seeing an increasing need for tools to not only connect and keep track of the devices, but also to ensure they—and the data on them—are secure.
“In the last number of years, there has been an explosion in the number of devices, and it’s becoming a very unmanageable space,” Gordon Adamyk, director of R&D business operations for Avaya Networking, told journalists during an event at the company’s Billerica, Massachusetts, facilities. “It’s just become a management nightmare and an industry nightmare.”
At the same time, officials with Avaya and partner companies demonstrated in a live test the ease of securely deploying and managing IoT devices using ONAs. They noted its SDN Fx architecture can support up to 168,000 devices.
ONA 1.0 comes as organizations continue to push for networks that are more programmable, scalable and agile to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands brought on by cloud computing, data analytics, the proliferation of mobile devices and the IoT. Estimates of the number of connected devices worldwide by 2020 range from 20 billion to 50 billion or more. SDN and network-functions virtualization (NFV) are among the technologies being used to help create the flexible networks that will be needed.
Avaya’s efforts also come at a time when company officials are trying to figure out its future. The company, which competes with the likes of Cisco Systems and Microsoft in such areas as corporate communications and enterprise networking, its undergoing a shift away from its hardware origins to become more of a software and services player.
What Avaya showed last week was a combination of hardware and software, with particular emphasis on security, scalability and openness. The SDN Fx architecture leverages open standards including Open vSwitch, an OpenDaylight SDN controller, the OpenFlow protocol and NetConf network management protocol, according to Adamyk.
At the same time, Avaya engineers built security into the platform at multiple levels. For example, the architecture creates what officials said are secure service paths that are based on the profile of the IoT devices connecting to the network. Based on this profile—which includes who is accessing the network and what is being accessed—the network will provide the necessary compute and security resources in place.
The ONA (pictured) always informs the SDN controller when it connects to the network, and authentication technologies enable secure communication between the ONA and controller. In addition, the ONA doesn’t store any data. Instead, its information comes from the controller, so if the ONA is lost or stolen and can’t communicate with the controller, it becomes useless, noted Carl Keene, director of engineering of R&D SDN fabric infrastructure at Avaya.
“If it’s not properly provisioned [by the controller], it acts like a brick,” Keene said. “If it’s stolen, it won’t work.”
Avaya Architecture Designed to Make IoT Easier, More Secure
At the Massachusetts facilities, Keene, Adamyk and other Avaya officials demonstrated the architecture in a lab. The demo included 600 ONAs controlled by a single OpenDaylight-based SDN controller from Avaya partner Inocybe Technologies. The demonstration showed both how easily IoT devices can deployed on the architecture using the ONAs and the scalability of the platform.
The ONA is powered by a dual-core CPU and includes an Ethernet port on each end—one for the device being connected, and the other for the connection into the infrastructure. The ONA is scanned and the serial number recorded by Avaya software, and the device shows up on a GUI interface while the SDN controller conducts the two-factor authentication. Routing policies then can be set to determine what information from the device will go where.
During the demonstration, three people with limited technical capabilities were walked through an onboarding process that took only a few minutes.
Once online, Avaya’s Fabric Connect technology will see and manage the device. In keeping with the idea of making the architecture as open as possible, future versions will be able to use other management platforms other than Fabric Connect, officials said.
The Avaya architecture includes three levels for scalability, manageability and security, officials said. There is the OpenDaylight instance that can support up to 660 OpenFlow and NetConf ONAs, and multiple paired instances of Avaya’s OpenDaylight controller to act as a cluster behind a load balancer from Kemp Technologies, enabling the cluster to be viewed as a single entity by the IoT devices. The combination of 255 OpenDaylight controller nodes at 660 devices per instance comes to 168,300 devices being controlled, they said. The architecture also includes a distributed main-memory database and messaging bus.
Avaya officials see the architecture and ONAs as keys to enabling highly scalable IoT environments that can securely deploy, manage and track thousands of connected devices. Adamyk said healthcare facilities—with the fast-growing number of devices and a highly regulated environment—were a good fit. Such facilities on average have 12 connected devices per bed, and a Veterans Administration hospital can have upwards of 10,000 total connected devices.
Officials expect Avaya and partners also to develop versions of the architecture and Avaya software optimized for other industries.