Are App-Specific Networks (ASNs) the Next Big IoT Thing?

Smart City 3

By: R. Scott Raynovich

Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) technology is hot. Internet of Things (IoT) is hot. So it only makes sense that you combine them, right?

The problem is a big one and needs a networking solution. Billions of IoT devices are profilerating, and they need to be secured and networked. Existing technologies such as virtual private networks (VPNs) or even SD-WANs do not scale or require specialized hardware. The next big thing may be applications-specific networks (ASNs) -- or AppWANs as startup NetFoundry is calling them -- which connect IoT devices or cloud services using instant software overlays that are based on the context and the application. 

NetFoundry, a networking startup that has been incubated by global service provider Tata Communications, is using AppWAN to describe its software overlay that can be used to secure IoT endpoints and cloud applications. The approach has characteristics of SD-WAN, without the use of of any edge hardware devices. 

MultiCloud Gateway on AWS

NetFoundry markets a MultiCloud Virtual Gateway, which recently was introduced on Amazon Web Services (AWS) Marketplace as a software instance for AWS. NetFoundry Founder and President Galeal Zino says versions are coming for Azure and Google Cloud. 

Zino describes ASNs or AppWANs as context-specific hybrid networks. Picture them as smart network connections that can bring up or tear down connections based on the specific context of the device and the application. They could be used to connect specialized IoT devices such as tablets or automobiles, or they could be used to connect applications across datacenters. 

This can also be done purely from the cloud. For example, says Zino, the AWS instance allows a customer with any kind of WAN to add AWS sites into their WAN just as they would add a new private datacenter. Some of the customers might be using applications such as back up and restore, whereas others are doing analytics. 

"They go to the marketplace, they download an image, they install an image on an AWS region, they take a virtual image on the edge of their enterprise," says Zino. "They hit our console, and a few clicks later they have added an AWS site with at least as good security and performance -- we would say better." 

Alliance Technology Group, a systems integrator, is using the NetFoundry technology to connect backup networks for universities and regional banks, as an example. 

Another good example is NetFoundry's relationship with Micron Technology (MU). In October the two companies announced a collaboration on Micron Authenta technology, which enables IoT hardware chips in automobiles to be authenticated in the cloud and connected securely with NetFoundry MultiCloud Connect. The combination of the secure chip and the AppWAN enables the IoT devices to be authenticated with a specific cryptographic fingerprint. 

SD-WAN Connections in the Cloud

SD-WAN players see the potential for this extension to the SD-WAN. Shortly after NetFoundry in November announced its instance of MultiCloud Connect on AWS, VeloCloud announced two weeks ago that it was extending an instance of its VeloCloud Edge to AWS. A VeloCloud seminar explains how the technology can be used to "deliver security and enterprise-grade application performance independent of the transport medium" across clouds, a similar approach to NetFoundry's. 

Zino says that VeloCloud announcing a similar service has increased interest in the space as a whole. "When the second company announces it, it gets more attention." 

One can expect that as VeloCloud gets integrated with VMware (VMware recently purchased the company), VMware will hone the story of using SD-WAN to extend virtualized networks in the cloud.

Given that customers are asking for more secure ways to connect IoT devices and cloud networks on the fly, one can expect more interest in this going forward. This will be a big theme to watch in 2018.