Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Blueprint: The Ethernet of Things

By Nicholas Ilyadis
Vice President and Chief Technical Officer, Infrastructure & Networking Group 
Broadcom Corporation

It’s hard to avoid the buzz these days about the Internet of Things (IoT), the next evolution of computing where the connections are made, not just between PCs and servers or across mobile devices but to billions of devices across the Internet. As IoT gains traction, connections are being made among wearable devices, thermostats, cars, medical devices and myriad other things in order to communicate, share data and take action.

As IoT proliferates, the demands on enterprise, service provider and home networks grow exponentially, placing additional demands on network architects and administrators to build and maintain networks that operate effectively and efficiently. A key component of that is the wider adoption of Ethernet connectivity, which has been migrating to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps), 40 Gbps and, eventually, 100 Gbps capacity. Trusted Ethernet represents the underlying networking layer on which IoT devices and the operating systems and software applications that power them run.

IoT growth predictions can be stunning. Research firm IDC predicts the number of connected things on the planet to reach 212 billion by the end of 2020. According to the Cisco Global Cloud Index, annual global data center IP traffic will reach 7.7 zettabytes by the end of 2017. A zettabyte is one byte times 10 to the 21st power. That’s a huge amount data to be in motion across Ethernet networks and at rest in storage devices.

IoT connections are being made not just on wired networks, but also on fast-growing wireless networks using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology. Much of the IoT buzz is driven by fascinating new things that are being developed by multiple companies. In addition to a range of non-conventional Internet-connected devices such as smart appliances, IoT includes a growing number of intelligent wearable products such as fitness trackers that provide real-time data on the user’s vital signs and activity levels. In industrial settings, an IoT device embedded in a jet engine can send statistics on how the engine is running to system controllers.

But all those devices – and more – generate and consume data that has to go somewhere. The networking industry is responding to this coming data deluge with innovations that are intended to move data quickly, efficiently and reliably:

  • Software-Defined Networking (SDN). SDN delivers a network-wide software platform to deliver better coordination, control and programmability in order to reduce the complexity of these modern networks. Ethernet switches are ideally suited for SDN as they provide the fabric of the Internet and data centers.
  • Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Complementing SDN, NFV moves networking functions from dedicated appliances – such as routers and switches -- to general purpose servers that run virtualization technology in order to make Ethernet networks more scalable, agile and efficient.
  • Cloud Computing. The cloud delivers the additional computing capacity required to satisfy growing demand to an enterprise or small business from a third party. With the cloud, organizations can crank up capacity to meet growing user demand without having to invest in new IT infrastructure. In addition, the ability to host processing and data in the cloud provides a mechanism to relocate that capacity to geographic locations where the data is being created as well as control the devices that are generating the data. Cloud Computing also depends on a well-designed Ethernet network, since low latency and high bandwidth are required to actualize the value.
  • Big Data. As more things seek to connect to the Internet and each other, the volume of data traversing networks increases, but the larger those data haystacks grow, the harder it is to find the all-important needles within them. Big Data analyzes vast databases of information to glean the most relevant insights from which end users will most benefit. Ethernet, with its high capacity and low latency capabilities, is again ideal for interconnecting the servers that crunch this data.
  • Green Data Center. As data centers grow in size and complexity, energy costs can skyrocket and efficiency can suffer. The New York Times reported in 2012 that data centers may waste as much as 90 percent of the electricity they obtain from their local electric utility. Migrating to more energy-efficient and higher capacity Ethernet connectivity does much to green-up the data center. One study shows that if networks migrated to 10G Energy Efficient Ethernet, from 1G devices, CO2 emissions could be reduced by up to 3.5 million metric tons, which is the equivalent of taking 2.3 million cars off the road or eliminating consumption of 1.3 billion gallons of gasoline or 27 million barrels of oil.

Network automation tools such as SDN, NFV and others, combined with Ethernet connectivity at 10Gbs and faster speeds, will together deliver a networking foundation onto which the software layer for IoT devices will run. That physical network will be complemented by wireless connectivity with processors built into Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-based devices to extend network connections. Together, they will allow end users to get the most out of the billions of connected things expected in the future.

About the Author
Nicholas (Nick) Ilyadis serves as Vice President and Chief Technical Officer of Broadcom’s Infrastructure and Networking Group (ING), responsible for product strategy and cross portfolio initiatives for a broad portfolio of Ethernet chip products including Network Switch, High Speed Controllers, PHY, Enterprise WLAN, SerDes, Processors and Security.

Prior to Broadcom, Ilyadis served as Vice President of Engineering for Enterprise Data Products at Nortel Networks and held various engineering positions at Digital Equipment Corporation and Itek Optical Systems.  Ilyadis holds an MSEE from the University of New Hampshire and a BTEE from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

About Broadcom
Broadcom Corporation (NASDAQ: BRCM), a FORTUNE 500® company, is a global leader and innovator in semiconductor solutions for wired and wireless communications. Broadcom® products seamlessly deliver voice, video, data and multimedia connectivity in the home, office and mobile environments. With the industry's broadest portfolio of state-of-the-art system-on-a-chip solutions, Broadcom is changing the world by Connecting everything®. For more information, go to