Cisco on Monday launched Cisco IoT System — a new Internet of Things initiative comprised of 15 products geared toward improving device interoperability. As many as 50 billion devices and objects could be connected to the Internet by 2020, the company forecast, yet today more than 99 percent of things in the physical world currently are unconnected.
Cisco aims to capitalize on unprecedented opportunities, as companies and communities begin to deploy IoT solutions.
“IoT deployment is increasing. Connectivity is the first layer of the puzzle,” said Vikas Butaney, director of product management at Cisco.
“As soon as you connect, the next topic that customers think about is whether it is secure,” Butaney told the E-Commerce Times. “It is a journey. We are not there today.”
The 6 Pillars of IoT
There are six pillars supporting Cisco’s IoT system:
- Network Connectivity, which includes purpose-built routing, switching and wireless products;
- Fog Computing, which enables customers to analyze and manage data locally;
- Security, which unifies cyber and physical security to deliver operational benefits;
- Data Analytics, which provides an optimized infrastructure to implement analytics and harness actionable data;
- Management and Automation; and
- the Application Enablement Platform.
The latter two provide enhanced security, control and support for multiple siloed functions, while providing partners and vendors with the ability to design, develop and deploy their own applications.
“Our partners use these six pillars that we laid out,” noted Butaney, “and we will focus on commercial and industrial segments.”
Among the 15 new IoT products that Cisco introduced are purpose-built IE switches, IoT Field Network Director software, Physical Security Analytics and Fog Data Services.
“With this release, we have brought together a number of connectivity products into an integrated portfolio for our clients,” Butaney said.
The six-pillar strategy could differentiate Cisco in the hot IoT space.
“The company is in an ideal position to promote itself for this emerging market, mainly due to the key position that innovative networking technologies hold in most IoT solutions and scenarios,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“At this point, most vendors are emphasizing the importance of moving IoT-related intelligence to the network edge to presort relevant details and events, rather than shuffling huge volumes of data back and forth to central data centers,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
Cisco’s leadership position in networking could make it a natural player in the IoT space, but some points in the company’s announcement have come off as a “bit baffling — particularly the company’s decision to promote ‘Fog Computing’ as a brand that’s distinct from ‘cloud,'” King pointed out.
“I’m sure Cisco has its reasons for this, but the negative connotations of fog — foggy thinking, living in a fog, etc. — make me think it will be a tough sell.”
All or Nothing
Any company jockeying to lead in the IoT space will have hurdles to clear.
As for Cisco’s strategy, “all the expected parts were on their list, except ‘interoperability’ was missing,” said Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.
“For IoT to succeed, we need critical mass, and the way to achieve critical mass is through interoperability,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “If every large company comes up with their Balkanized strategy, we’re mired in fragmentation. Consumers will throw up their hands — ‘I didn’t sign up for this, why doesn’t it work together?'”
To resolve such concerns will require standardization, said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.
“The IoT is going to be heterogeneous by its very nature, and the industry will have to agree on standards if it’s to work at all,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Cisco is just one of many companies vying for this space, and I don’t see a huge amount of cooperation among the players,” Kay suggested.
“Cisco seems to be approaching it from the network side, whereas companies like Freescale are starting at the edge nodes,” he observed. “Certainly, all the traffic generated by billions of new sensors will need to be handled by enhanced networks, but the nodes have to be extremely small, cheap and low power — not something Cisco has much expertise in.”
Cisco has proven that its unified computing systems could be a solid solution for many analytics applications and workloads — such as SAP’s HANA — but it still lacks a strong play of its own, making vertically focused analytic partners all the more important.
“What Cisco does with APIs is another matter, since many IoT competitors are focusing on developing open APIs that will enable interactions between heterogeneous platforms,” Pund-IT’s King pointed out. “If Cisco’s effort are similar, then good on them. But if the company instead focuses on proprietary technologies, its IoT offerings could become effectively isolated.