Embedded vs. External Controllers in Software-Defined IoT Networks

Miheer Kulkarni, Michael Baddeley, Israat Haque

The flexible and programmable architectural model offered by Software-Defined Networking (SDN) has re-imagined modern networks. Supported by powerful hardware and high-speed communications between devices and the controller, SDN provides a means to virtualize control functionality and enable rapid network reconfiguration in response to dynamic application requirements. However, recent efforts to apply SDN's centralized control model to the Internet of Things (IoT) have identified significant challenges due to the constraints faced by embedded low-power devices and networks that reside at the IoT edge. In particular, reliance on external SDN controllers on the backbone network introduces a performance bottleneck (e.g., latency). To this end, we advocate a case for supporting Software-Defined IoT networks through the introduction of lightweight SDN controllers directly on the embedded hardware. We firstly explore the performance of two popular SDN implementations for IoT mesh networks, $\mu$SDN and SDN-WISE, showing the former demonstrates considerable gains over the latter. We consequently employ $\mu$SDN to conduct a study of embedded vs. external SDN controller performance. We highlight how the advantage of an embedded controller is reduced as the network scales, and quantify a point at which an external controller should be used for larger networks.

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