Time for a New Network Engine: Start Running on a Software-Defined Network

I grew up on a wheat farm in the 70s. I spent much of my teens and early 20s working on farm machinery, before starting my career in software and computer technology. I learned distributor caps, points, carburetors, plugs, etc. to be able to tune up an engine to get it run well. I still have a timing light and dwell meter to be able to work on my old Studebaker. However, I don’t work on my modern vehicles—I have a trustworthy mechanic with the tools to interact with the onboard computer systems.

Engines have progressed a long way since the 70s. I had a 1979 Hurst/Olds Cutlass, one of the top factory muscle cars of the late 70s. Engine was rated at 170 HP and got 12 MPG on a good day. A 2014 Mustang GT500 has 662 HP and gets 24 MPG, or almost four times the HP and twice the mileage.  Aerodynamics has some effect, but the big difference is engine technology (plus modern transmissions, but bear with my analogy for a few more paragraphs).

OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and aftermarket parts companies proposed many components to try to improve the good old 70s V8 engines. Distributors and points were replaced by electronic ignition systems, providing more accurate spark and reduced component deterioration. Carburetors were replaced by throttle body fuel injectors that eliminated the bowls and floats and provided better fuel delivery. These components helped but weren’t capable of delivering orders of magnitude improvement required to deliver horsepower to a mileage conscious consumer (or government agencies).

Modern engines are a marvel of computer technology. The fundamentals of the internal combustion engine haven’t changed: compress a mixture of air and fuel, introduce a spark, convert the explosion to mechanical energy, exhaust the spent fuel, and repeat. Now, computers do a better job of tuning the engine than I could ever dream of and tuning is performed constantly, adjusting the engine for atmospherics, load, fuel quality, terrain, driver style, etc. to maximize efficiency.

The networking industry is at a similar place today as engine designers were in the 80s. We’re trying to modernize the 90s network technology by adding Software-Defined Network (SDN) controllers. As requirements for network services evolved, network manufacturers created protocols (some open, some proprietary) to deliver the services. The result is a stack of network protocols that present a very complex management challenge.

I read a book in my teens (Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, Abrashkin and Williams, 1958) about a student who programmed a NASA computer to do his math homework. The student’s math teacher found out about the program. The student assumed he was going to fail the class because he didn’t do his own homework. However, the teacher said the student had to understand more about how to solve the math problems to program the computer than was required to do the problems. This story has stuck with me for 40+ years because of the underlying truth: You have to understand a problem very well to be able to automate a solution.

I don’t claim to be a network admin, but I know several. They tell me managing the full network stack is as much art as it is science. Put a half-dozen network experts around a table with an endless supply of beer, and the beer will run out before they come to a consensus on how to best architect and operate a complex network. If they can’t agree how to manage a network, how can there be an agreement on the best way to automate it?

If auto manufacturers had tried to computerize a carburetor and dynamically adjust timing by putting a step motor on the distributer, we’d still be driving sub-200 HP performance cars with poor reliability and complex service requirements. To significantly improve the network, we need to start by simplifying the network. This doesn’t mean that we need an entirely new network paradigm. Engine designers maintained the core hardware design with pistons, valves, cam- and crank-shafts (though some people did play with a rotary engine concept). The basic network is fine—cabling, switches, Ethernet, TCP/IP, etc. However, the delivery of upper level services needs to be greatly simplified to achieve the promise of a significantly improved network.

But what’s meant by “improved network”? Engine designers were driven to improve the engine efficiency to get more power from a unit of fuel. But I’m sure there were other secondary goals, such as improved reliability that allowed vehicle manufacturers to offer much longer product warrantees. So what are the goals of an improved network?

  • Security:

    Data security is top of mind (and front of newspapers) today. Complexity is an antagonist of safety. Complex environments provide too many attack surfaces and make it very easy for well-intentioned maintenance to accidentally open a back door to your data.

  • Flexibility:

    Complex environments are hard to change. It used to be that provisioning a server took weeks and configuring the network took minutes. With virtualization, a server can be provisioned in minutes, but a VLAN takes weeks to create (safely).

  • Resiliency:

    In the 7×24 connected world, taking minutes to hours to recover from a network component failure isn’t acceptable.

  • Manageability:

    This is somewhat a self-fulfilling statement. Less complex environments are simpler to understand and simpler to manage effectively.

Avaya’s SDN Fx™ Architecture, based on SPB or Shortest Path Bridging (802.1aq), provides an alternative to the traditional network protocol stack for L2/L3 unicast and multicast network services. SPB has several attributes that make it a much better engine to drive the requirements of modern networks.

  • Provisioned at the edge:

    Network services are defined on the access switches, turning the core of network into a vehicle for date transfer, which is never touched. (See point No. 3 in Top 10 things you need to know about Avaya Fabric Connect.)

  • Hyper-segmentation:

    SPB supports 16 million virtual networks, so every service can have its own virtual network segment, a key to providing network level data security. (For more information, see Avaya Chief Technologist of SDA Jean Turgeon’s three-part blog on network segmentation. Read about hyper-segmentation, native stealth and elasticity.)

  • Very fast re-convergence:

    SPB identifies all possible paths through the network and selects the best path. If a path disappears, the next best path is already determined and chosen in a couple of hundred milliseconds or less. (See point No. 7 in Top 10 things you need to know about Avaya Fabric Connect.)

  • Internet of Things (IoT) support:

    SPB works equally well connecting racks of virtualized compute infrastructure as connecting Wireless Access Points (WAPs), CCTV cameras, sensors, controls, phones, etc. See the blog Security and the IoT: Where to Start, How to Solve for more information.

One benefit that engine designers had that network engineers don’t have is the new model year. Consumers don’t expect to take their old car into the dealer and get an engine upgrade. They take their car in to get an entirely new car. Network engineers are expected to upgrade the network by replacing parts, usually while the network is still running. Avaya’s Fabric Extend allows SPB to be deployed by simply replacing the edge switches and utilizing your existing core network. Spanning the core of the network doesn’t provide all of the benefits of a full fabric deployment, but does provide a means to execute a rolling fabric conversion, kind-of-like upgrading the carburetor while the car is running.

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Benefits of Deploying the Avaya Surge™ Solution for Any IP Network

The Avaya Surge™ Solution is designed to work in an SDN Fx fabric environment. But many companies don’t have the luxury of deploying a full Ethernet fabric before they deploy their IoT-based applications. Avaya Surge release 1.0.1 (November 2016) added support for non-fabric IP networks.

The Surge IoT Controller works essentially the same way as in the SDN Fx fabric deployment, except the Open vSwitch on the Open Networking Adapter can’t automate network provisioning. Therefore, the VLANs must be configured manually on the network. The solution still provides centralized inventory, white list profiles, flow filtering, and a single pane-of-glass status for all Open Networking Adapter-enabled IoT devices. Without the SDN Fx fabric infrastructure, segmentation is limited to VLANs that aren’t stealthy and mobility requires manual network service set-up and tear-down. For environments where devices are static, the IP-only version of Avaya Surge may suffice until a full fabric can be deployed.

The risk profile of IoT doesn’t lend itself to “good enough” solutions for long. When a company’s network and data are compromised, less than best practices will be criticized in the media, in the court room, and, as in the Yahoo case, impact executive pay. Avaya Surge Release 2.0, scheduled for the second quarter of 2017, adds IPSec encryption and tunneling to an IP-only deployment. (IPSec will be available for SDN Fx deployments as well.)

A HyperSec gateway is deployed to coordinate the IPSec functionality with the Open Networking Adapters. The HyperSec gateway terminates the IPSec connection from the Adapters and directs the data to the correct VLAN to reach the target application server. Return data is encrypted and sent to the appropriate Adapter, which terminates and forwards the data to the IoT device. The addition of the HyperSec gateway adds encryption to the data on the network, while adding mobility to the solution. The Adapter is able to dynamically create the IPSec tunnel to the HyperSec gateway, reducing manual network management.

The HyperSec gateway is deployed as an active/standby pair. Each Adapter will be set up with primary/secondary tunnels. If the primary is not available, the Adapter will communicate over the secondary tunnel to the HyperSec gateway. The HyperSec cluster is headless. Configuration information is maintained in the Surge IoT Controller. This greatly simplifies scale-out clustering of the HyperSec gateway.

I will blog more about the HyperSec solution closer to availability. Keep in mind that you can get started with Avaya Surge on an IP network today and add IPSec when it becomes available. Also, it is not an all-or-nothing solution. Critical IoT components and services go through the HyperSec gateway and less critical and stationary workloads are deployed with IP and VLANs. Furthermore, SDN Fx fabric can be incrementally added to portions of the IoT portfolio to gain the value of hyper-segmentation, native stealth, and automatic elasticity.

Look at all of this through a different lens. I was talking to a friend, an intellectual property rights attorney, about the exposure that companies face from data breaches. It was one of those conversations where he wanted to know more about the technology and I was curious about his perspective as someone who makes money from a company’s problems. He was especially interested because legal firms are getting $500K to $2.5M for a simple breach defense. When looking at these numbers, I think that even if a company isn’t found culpable in a data breach, they could spend a lot of money in defense. So, it’s probably best to invest in the infrastructure to deploy IoT projects in a safe and sane manner.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Then I looked at how Avaya’s SDN FxTM provides a foundation for a safe and sane IoT deployment. Finally, I introduced the Avaya Surge™ Solution, which extends network fabric to IoT devices and provides centralized device management, protection, and flow filtering.

Avaya Surge™ Solution Makes Securing the IoT Easy for All Devices

Let’s explore how you can manage thousands of IoT devices while protecting your network and data from unnecessary risk. Often, we think newer devices will be more secure than older ones that were network-enabled before the current threat profile. However, Gartner predicts devices will remain unsecured for quite some time. The Avaya Surge™ Solution makes securing the IoT easy for all devices.

Avaya Surge, recently named a 2017 Gold Edison Award winner, consists of an IoT controller and an Open Networking Adapter, which is a proxy for IoT endpoints and provides the programmable security for insecure devices.

Key Attributes of Avaya Surge

  • Automated onboarding of IoT devices
  • Inventory reporting, including real-time status
  • MAC-based device security
  • Traffic flow filtering
  • Tight integration with Avaya SDN Fx (but works with any IP network)
  • IPSec encryption and tunneling in release 2.0 (coming in the second half of 2017)

How Avaya Surge Works

  1. An Open Networking Adapter is paired with an IoT device on the IoT controller by matching the serial number of Adapter (or QR code) to the MAC address of the IoT device. The IoT Controller sees the Adapter/IoT device as an inseparable pair and manages the IoT device through the Adapter.
  2. The IoT device is connected to the Adapter which is connected to the edge switch (plug RJ45 connectors together).
  3. The Adapter uses DHCP and DNS to locate the IoT Controller. The Adapter negotiates security keys with the IoT Controller and the onboarding process begins.
  4. The IoT Controller looks up the profile identified for the device type connected to the Adapter and down loads it to the Adapter. The profile contains network configuration, service requirements and allowable flows.
  5. The IoT device establishes connection to its application server and the Adapter begins monitoring network traffic.

Key Operational Benefits of Avaya Surge

  • The Adapter doesn’t retain profile information through a power cycle. If an Adapter is disconnected from the network or loses power, data in memory is lost. When power is returned, the Adapter must connect to the IoT controller to get its profile to function. Avaya Surge will indicate the Adapter/IoT device has lost network connectivity. Without a valid registration, the Adapter does nothing. Network or profile information can’t be learned from a stolen Adapter.
  • The Adapter is based on white list security. When the Adapter boots, it doesn’t allow traffic from the IoT device. The profile provides a white list of approved devices and flows. For instance, if the only IP addresses that an IoT device is supposed to contact are its application server and network services (DHCP, DNS, etc.), the Adapter will block all other traffic. This prevents a compromised device from infecting its peers.
  • The Adapter has a learning mode. A profile can be complex to create. Therefore, the Adapter can be set to accept all traffic and mirror it to the IoT controller. The IoT device operates normally with Avaya Surge cataloging the traffic. This allows the IoT device to operate normally under the supervision of IT staff. When adequate time has passed (dependent on device operation), the captured traffic is converted to a reusable profile that becomes the standard for all like devices. The Adapter is taken out of learning mode, updated with the new profile, and a new device has been added to the network—safely and sanely. Under normal circumstances, the IoT Controller receives reports only from the Adapter and isn’t in the data path.
  • The profile stops MAC spoofing. If all the Adapter did was lock down a MAC address, an antagonist could disconnect the IoT device and connect a computer with the same MAC address. Technically, the Adapter will allow this to happen. However, as soon at the antagonist tries to do something that the IoT device isn’t normally allowed to do, the Adapter will block the traffic and report an abnormal flow attempt to the IoT Controller. One of the issues with IoT is many devices can’t be physically secured and are susceptible to tampering. Avaya Surge addresses this challenge.
  • The inventory addresses all use cases. IoT devices will be deployed within an organization across many use cases and application stacks. For example, a facility may have point-of-sale terminals: CCTV cameras, HVAC sensors and controls, security key pads and door controllers, medical devices, robots, assembly stations, and more. Each of these is deployed with its own application servers with device status monitoring and inventory management. Avaya Surge provides network IT with a single pane status for all IoT devices that are secured with Adapters within the infrastructure.
  • Avaya Surge supports device mobility. Devices can be automatically moved from one network port to another. The Adapter contains OVS 2.4 code, including support for Auto-attach (IEEE 802.1Qcj). Auto-attach provides the ability for the Adapter to signal Avaya Fabric Attach to create the required services on the edge switch, such as VLAN and ISID mapping. If a device needs to be moved, a technician would simply unplug the Adapter from the switch, move the device and Adapter to the new location, and plug the Adapter into the new port. When the Adapter is unplugged, the Adapter loses its profile and the SDN Fx network disables the services to the old port. When the Adapter is reconnected, it contacts the IoT Controller to get its profile and the OVS requests the services be provisioned on the new port. Within a couple of minutes, the IoT device is functioning in its new location and the move has been done safely, sanely and without Networking IT involved. Note that networking IT would have been notified when the Adapter was disconnected and reconnected through the Avaya Surge dashboard.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Then I looked at how Avaya’s SDN FxTM provides a foundation for a safe and sane IoT deployment. Next in this blog series, I’ll explore deploying Avaya Surge in a non-SDN Fx IP network.

Secure IoT Deployments with Avaya SDN Fx™ Architecture Solutions

Let’s look at how to deploy the IoT in a safe and sane manner—a top-of-mind business challenge. Before diving into the technology, let’s remember why secure IoT deployments are so important. The Yahoo breach is a lesson learned: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer lost $12M in bonuses over the Yahoo data breach and Yahoo paid $16M to investigate the breach and cover legal expenses as of March 2, 1017. It’s clear that the cost of not building a safe infrastructure is much more than the cost to build one.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is sometimes over-hyped. At a base level, separating the control plane from the data plane makes sense (if one understands the definitions of a data plane and control plane). In a practical sense, it means the network infrastructure doesn’t need to be managed on a node-by-node basis (i.e., logging into network devices on each end of the cable to make complementary changes to configure a network link). This is where SDN can be over-hyped. The SDN solution automates the process of making the changes to each end of the cable, making the network easier to manage. But, it doesn’t reduce the complexity, increase the resiliency (other than reduce outages due to typing errors), or make it easier to troubleshoot or expand.

Avaya SDN FxTM Architecture is based on fabric, not network technology. The architecture was designed to be managed as an entity of subcomponents and not a bunch of nodes that are interconnected to create a larger entity. In other words, it’s like designing something to manage a forest, as opposed to managing the trees. Would you really want to manage a forest one tree at a time?

How SDN Fx Architecture Benefits the IoT

Although the SDN Fx network architecture wasn’t specifically designed for the IoT, it works well for providing a solid foundation to deploy IoT solutions. These are the key components of the SDN Fx Architecture that benefit the IoT:

Avaya Fabric Connect is Avaya’s implementation of Shortest Path Bridging (SPB/IEEE 802.1aq). SPB replaces the traditional network stack, greatly simplifying network configuration, management and security. Three key benefits of Fabric Connect apply directly to IoT deployment use case:

  • Hyper-Segmentation: SPB supports 16 million+ network segments. In theory, every IoT device on a network could have its own segment. More realistically, every device type can have its own segment. For instance, HVAC could be one network, security cameras could be on another, employees on a third, guests on a fourth, etc. It’s worth noting that the NSA sees segmenting IoT networks as a key to limiting exposure of IoT deployments. (In my next blog, I’ll examine how Avaya solutions provide security between devices on the same segment.)
  • Automatic Elasticity: Services in SPB are provisioned at the edge without touching the core of the network. This makes it very straightforward to provision network services for the hundreds or thousands of IoT devices that the business wants up and running yesterday. Plus, edge provisioning makes moving devices simple. When a device is disconnected from the network, the network service to that port is disabled and eliminates open holes in the network security. When the device is connected to the same or different port, the device is authenticated and services are automatically configured for the port.
  • Native Stealth: SPB operates at the Ethernet, not the IP layer. For example, if a would-be hacker gains access to one segment of a traditional network, they can go IP-snooping to discover the network architecture. A traditional network is only as secure as the least secure segment/component. With Fabric Connect, if a security loophole is overlooked in a less important network project, there isn’t a back door to access the rest of the network and the corporate data.

Avaya Fabric Extend provides the ability to extend an SPB fabric across a non-fabric network, such as IP core, between campuses over Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), or out to the cloud over WAN. IoT deployments enable the phased adoption of SDN Fx so that IoT projects can gain the values above, without ripping and replacing significant network infrastructure or affecting non-IoT workloads.

Avaya Fabric Attach automates the elasticity of the SPB fabric for IoT devices and other devices supporting Automatic Attachment (IEEE 802.1Qcj). Fabric Attach allows the device to signal the network that it needs in order to connect to a service. If the device is authorized, the service is automatically provisioned. When the device is disconnected, the service is terminated. If the device is moved to a different network port, the service will be provisioned automatically to the new port. This makes deploying and moving Fabric Attach-enabled devices very simple. For a real-world example, see how Axis Communications is starting to deploy Fabric Attach in their IoT devices.

Avaya Open Networking Adapters—an Open Network Adapter is a small device that sits in-line with an IoT device to provide programmable security for IoT devices that lack adequate network security. One component of the solution is Fabric Attach, which provides automated service provisioning and mobility to devices that don’t have the auto-attach capability. (I’ll explore more about the power of Open Networking Adapters in an upcoming blog.)

The Avaya Identity Engines Portfolio provides powerful tools for managing user and device access to a network, commonly referred to as Authentication, Authorization, and Accounting. In the IoT use case, Identity Engines authenticate a device by MAC address or MAC address group and use predefined policies for the device type to dynamically configure services. For instance, a camera could be assigned to Video VLAN 30 and provisioned for multicast, while a phone would be authenticated, assigned to VLAN 20, and configured for SIP communications. This provides security for unauthorized devices joining the network and provides automatic segmentation based on device type and service requirements.

I’m not sure if there ever was a time when network design and implementation was static, but there was a time when the devices connected to the network could be predicted: servers, printers, storage, PCs, etc. With IoT, IT is being asked to design networks for devices that haven’t been thought of yet. The old network technologies were designed for mobility by work order, and IT was able to list the number of device types that wouldn’t work on the network. SDN Fx provides a true software-defined network and not software-defined automation on old network constructs. A fabric network has the intrinsic flexibility and security required for tomorrow’s IoT projects, today.

In my recent blogs about the IoT, I’ve looked at how the IoT enables Digital Transformation and examined a business-first approach to IoT technology adoption. Next in this blog series, I’ll explore the newest component of the SDN Fx solution for the IoT, the Avaya Surge™ Solution.