The Military Needs a Modern Network Solution — SDN and NFV Can Help

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By: Jacqueline Lee|

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Because of the transition to IP-centric systems, spending on military communications systems is expected to grow to more than $35 billion by 2024, representing a compound annual growth rate of 3.4 percent, according to Strategy Analytics.

The resulting veritable army of new devices will require a robust network solution, which experts think will be built on two emerging technologies: network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).

The Military’s New Network Needs

Today’s adversaries are often nebulous, guerrilla-style bands of militants, and as a result, the Armed Forces must reconstruct counterinsurgency operations. These new operations cannot happen without modern communication systems, so the military has been investing heavily in new technologies such as satellites and Internet-enabled devices to improve its communications — which must be supported by speedy, agile and secure network solutions.

Smaller, Better Satellites

In the remote mountains of Afghanistan, field soldiers sometimes have trouble communicating with remote headquarters. To connect troops in faraway places, Army scientists like Dr. Travis Taylor are developing nanosatellite technology such as the SMDC-ONE.

Taylor told Army Technology Magazine that he and his team are also working on small imaging satellites with a ground resolution of 2–3 meters. That imaging is good enough to show soldiers which building a plume of smoke is coming from or whether there is a tank lurking around the next corner.

The Internet of Everything

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has included the Internet of Things (IoT) on its list of technologies to watch. According to SIGNAL Magazine, DISA’s 2014–2019 strategic plan notes, “From improved logistics tracking to optimized building security and environmental controls to health monitoring of individual soldiers, the Internet of Things will impact everything we do.”

The Army already uses smart devices within soldiers’ helmets to remotely diagnose traumatic brain injuries. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins Jr., director of DISA, says IoT devices have also helped the armed forces reduce casualty counts. While increased broadband capacity offered by satellites will make more room for IoT expansion, more devices still means greater network surface area and more vectors for a cyberattack.

A Primer on How NFV and SDN Can Help

How can NFV and SDN help the armed forces with new communication technologies and the growing IoT? Joel Dolisy explains in a post for Defense Systems that NFV works a lot like server virtualization — it takes a single hardware appliance and turns it into a pool of machines that perform the same function. SDN, on the other hand, separates the network’s control plane from its data-forwarding plane, which empowers network administrators to rearrange the plumbing of the device pool as they see fit.

It’s easy to see how SDN, enabled by NFV, can deliver speed and agility for military networks. These technologies could also herald exciting possibilities for improving network security.

SDN-Enabled Security

In addition to providing a better network solution for managing larger and more heavily populated communications systems, SDN also gives network managers more options for responding to security threats, such as those introduced by IoT devices.

For example, using SDN, a network administrator can route both internal and perimeter network traffic through a single firewall, which makes it easier to capture threat data in real time, Dolisy writes. Since the network is controlled from a central point, routing can be changed at the touch of a button. However, SDN applications need to strengthen their security postures. The software that controls a network can’t have bugs or vulnerabilities; otherwise, attackers may find ways to abuse them.

An All-in-One Network Solution

One of the most exciting aspects of SDN is the way it helps network administrators respond to threats. Instead of trying to simply block attacks, administrators can deploy tarpits, quarantine endpoints and use honeynets in real time to interfere with attackers that are probing the network and mitigate attacks that are in progress.

With SDN, military networks can respond to security threats in the moment. Considering the changing nature of combat, SDN could also give the armed forces the exact network solution capabilities it needs: speed, agility and security, all in one package.

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About The Author

Jacqueline Lee

Freelance Writer

Jacqueline Lee specializes in business and technology writing, drawing on over 10 years of experience in business, management and entrepreneurship. Currently, she blogs for HireVue and IBM, and her work on behalf of client brands has appeared in Huffington Post, Forbes, Entrepreneur and Inc. Magazine. In addition to writing, Jackie works as a social media manager and freelance editor. She's a member of the American Copy Editors Society and is completing a certificate in editing from the Poynter Institute.

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