Thursday 1st October 2020

Do you know the way to San Jose? SD-WAN’s not wrong, it makes the jams go away

Published on April 29th, 2019

As you read this, think about a poor man called Atchison Frazer, who is stuck on a motorway somewhere between his home in Redwood and his work in San Jose.

In American parlance, there are two Californian freeways the marketing director for Versa Networks could use for the 20 mile journey: the 280 or the 101. They are always traffic-free in the dawn’s early light, when Atchison starts his journey. But will they stay that way for the duration of the journey? In the words of local dignitary Don King, there are two chances: Slim Chance and No Chance, and Slim’s not around right now.

IoT routing

If Slim is planning his journey in the same the way that the IoT is organised, he’ll be stuck in a giant grey gulag on some ugly, godforsaken industrial estate. Such is the madness of current routing convention on the IoT, that all data journeys must go through the data centre before they can progress.

If California resident Dionne Warwick had asked anyone in the IoT business if they know the way to San Jose the answer would have been: you better haul your AAS (as-a-service) over to the Fault Line. (By a weird quirk of design, the US states with the most data centres are always the most disaster prone. Where there’s a fault line, there’s a facility and where there are terabytes, expect tornadoes.

The routing is the problem with the IoT and its information superhighway, says Frazer. “A car is a sophisticated computer on wheels. Imagine if every time you wanted to up upgrade it, you had to drive back to the garage first,” says Atchison.

Straight to the cloud?

Atchison’s employer, Versa Networks, has a mission to clear traffic congestion on the Internet Superhighway with intelligent design using SD-WAN. The first software definition it made was to the rule that all network traffic can use the data centre bypass and head straight to the cloud. So if someone is sending a video of a road rage-induced tailback to Youtube or a traffic reporter, the juggernaut-sized data packets can take the cloud route and cut 90% of their journey time.

But the SD-WAN is going to be a lot cuter than that. Any vehicles carrying vital information – such as data that will be effectively lifeless if it doesn’t arrive by the deadline – can be prioritised, like the ‘Diamond Lane’ that the Californians organise for ambulances, cops and rich people on the real-world motorways.

There is a new breed of CHIPs patrolling the California Information Super Highways, with a guest star called SD-WAN. These cops are different – they seem to solve cases before they happen. They can predict traffic problems before they build up and re-route any lumbering juggernauts (such as Dropbox-bound videos or Spotify downloads) onto the B-roads where they belong. They can instantly move traffic onto an apposite route, be it LTE, satellite or the wires.

Not yet delivered

As they say at the end of every show, I think we’ve all learned something from this story. Software definition can make the IoT deliver huge benefits for the road traveller – but it hasn’t really got out of first gear yet. SD-WAN can make IoT traffic more deterministic and adaptive. Atchison said he liked my motorway metaphor and it could be used to help non-technical audiences to see the big picture faster and in more detail. At this point, Atchison must move on to the next challenge.

I sure hope he finds what he’s looking for.

The author is freelance technology writer, Nick Booth.

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