Cisco introduced a new Internet of Things System on Monday that ties together a wide range of Cisco's IoT units but what does this really mean for users?
Cisco formed an IoT division two years ago out of groups dedicated to industrial networks and smart electrical grids. It saw that those technologies were part of a larger trend, but turning them into a cohesive set of products took time.
"In 2013, when we pulled this stuff together, it didn't work as well together as it should," said Kip Compton, vice president of Cisco's Internet of Things Systems and Software group. "We're now feeling like we're at a point where we can claim that."
The Internet of Things System spans all the parts of infrastructure that go into an IoT deployment, including communications gear, computing elements, security and management software, Cisco says. Some of those already exist, but while announcing the system on Monday, the company also introduced 15 products that will be part of it. They include routers, a switch, a Wi-Fi access point, security cameras, and tools for gathering data from the edges of the network for analysis. All will ship within 90 days, Compton said.
Some core features of the IoT System, such as Cisco's TrustSec role-based security technology, will exist across the company's IoT line. Another common thread is IoT Field Network Director, built from management software tools Cisco already had.
Field Network Director is designed to manage all the elements of an IoT deployment. For example, it can manage smart meters and the routers connected to them as well as mobile routers built into maintenance trucks. That combination, plus location-based capabilities in the software, could allow a utility to detect failed meters and quickly tell which of its repair trucks was closest to the failure.
IoT Field Network Director can be added to Cisco products already in the field, Compton said. It can also feed information into applications from other vendors through APIs (application programming interfaces).
The Cisco IoT System is just part of the company's broader Internet of Everything initiative, which includes data analytics and the business transformations that Cisco says will become possible with connected things. Cisco is primarily in the business of IoT infrastructure rather than applications or connected "things" themselves, Compton said. It works with numerous partners, including General Electric and Rockwell Automation, that make those components.
However, when it comes to integrating third-party elements into Cisco's infrastructure, the same rules apply in IoT as in traditional networking. Cisco supports standard communications and management protocols, but specific enhancements added by Cisco and other vendors won't necessarily work across both Cisco and third-party gear, Compton said.
A complete architecture like Cisco's can have benefits to enterprises and the system integrators that often put together IoT infrastructures for them, said analyst Andy Castonguay of Machina Research.
"They're trying to make this transition for enterprises easier than what was there before," he said.
For one thing, going with Cisco's IoT System may reduce an enterprise's reliance on middleware vendors or developers to make disparate systems work together, Castonguay said.
Still, enterprise decision-makers are faced with complex decisions as they look at emerging products and the legacy IoT gear they may already have, Castonguay said. Any vendor's overall system needs to offer real benefits.
"It's going to be important for enterprises and operators to push back on companies -- not just Cisco," he said.