When we talk about the Industrial Internet, we usually focus on the "industrial" side, asking how connectivity, big data, and analytics can bring dramatic improvements to large-scale industries such as energy, transportation, and healthcare.

But what if industry can also drive the growth of the Internet, expanding its infrastructure and capabilities beyond what was developed for the consumer Internet?

The Shackles of Physical Infrastructure

In many ways the Internet is both a success and a victim of its network structure. Networking services like addressing, passing data from one location to another, and traffic flow are often handled by infrastructure layer devices like switches and routers. While that infrastructure is robust and scalable (after all, it led to the development of the massive, global Internet), it also has its shortcomings.

Prioritizing certain kinds of traffic and services, like continuous large streams of data, becomes difficult under the existing model of networking. Vendor-specific equipment also limits interoperability to specific (and relatively inflexible) protocols.

For the Industrial Internet, which demands added reliability, speed, and data prioritization, existing models of network infrastructure limit growth and function. What's needed is a networking infrastructure that's dynamic, flexible, and customizable.

A New Abstract Network

What if networking itself can go the way so many applications and services have recently gone - to the cloud? A new abstracted model of networking, called software-defined networking (SDN) proposes to do just that. SDN decouples networking services from physical infrastructure in a way that enables communication to be more dynamic, manageable, and cost-effective than ever before. In doing so, it also sets up a strong scaffold for the growth of the Industrial Internet.

Here's what SDN will bring:

  1. Global High-Level Control - By abstracting networking services into a higher control layer, SDN can provide a global view of an entire complex network, allowing applications to easily access any data or service through a simple logical switch. The biggest benefit? Extending cloud services across platforms right into massive data centers, creating a smooth and seamless flow of information no matter what physical paths are involved.
  1. Directly Programmable Networks - Network managers can define, optimize, manage traffic operations, and prioritize services based on need. This way, applications requiring the highest bandwidth and most reliability can get them, instead of being at the mercy of hardware. The results would be decreased downtime, greater resilience, and faster data center operations. That means nearly-flawless content delivery, a must for the kinds of mission-critical operations taking place through the Industrial Internet.
  2. Open Standards and Interoperability - SDN simplifies networks by eliminating the complexities brought on by vendor-specific equipment and protocols. Control layer network services would communicate with infrastructure layer devices through a standardized protocol like OpenFlow, allowing applications, not hardware architecture, to determine network design. For the Industrial Internet, which relies on smart devices communicating seamlessly with one another across a vast, global, intelligent network, this means platforms could operate end-to-end without any integration issues.

Networking with a Brain

The transition to SDN is happening in tandem with the growth of the Industrial Internet. The two share common principles like virtualization, open-standards, and application-defined operations. As SDN expands, its benefits to the Industrial Internet will be more and more apparent. Already, SDN has proven to improve the analytics performance of Hadoop dramatically. As the Industrial Internet develops new applications, investing in SDN will be smart, efficient, and necessary to leverage its benefits and bring about a fast, smart, and secure interconnected world.

About the author

GE Digital

Driving Digital Transformation

GE Digital connects streams of machine data to powerful analytics and people, providing industrial companies with valuable insights to manage assets and operations more efficiently. World-class talent and software capabilities help drive digital industrial transformation for big gains in productivity, availability and longevity. We do this by leveraging Predix, our cloud-based operating system, purpose built for the unique needs of industry.