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Cisco Flexes IoT Muscle

Cisco this week held its Internet of Things World Forum under the unusually sunny skies of London, a solid location choice for this fourth-annual event given the level of IoT activity going on in the city for years now.

I believe London still has the most cameras of any city, for example. These it uses to improve citizen safety as well as to generate revenue by taking pictures of license plates and charging car owners a "congestion" fee for entering Central London. Within a decade every major city will likely have almost every square inch covered with a camera, and London has been leading this initiative. Also, its subway system switched over to near-field touch-and-go entry/exit with its Oyster smartcards maybe 10 years ago now. The more digital and people-friendly the city is, the better the experience for citizens as well as the scores of tourists that hit London annually.

However, not every business is as advanced as the city of London. In fact, a recent IoT study Cisco conducted showed that only 26% of 1,845 respondents had a successful IoT deployment, Inbar Lassar-Raab, VP of infrastructure and digital solutions marketing at Cisco, shared during her opening session at the event. The rest of the projects fizzled out somewhere on the way to conclusion, with 60% stalling at the proof-of-concept phase, she said.

Why is this? Lassar-Raab highlighted two primary reasons: integration complexity and lack of internal expertise. These kind of go hand in hand. If a company doesn't have necessary internal skills, then it has no hope of getting over the complexity hump. At the event, Cisco made two announcements aimed at helping make IoT projects easier to deploy so more customers can join the 26%ers and have their own success stories.

The first is the Cisco IoT Operations Platform, which comprises the following three components:

  • Connectivity management -- Cisco jumped into the connectivity management market when it acquired IoT platform provider Jasper in March 2016. It has now extended the platform to allow any company in any vertical to manage the massive amount of IoT endpoints that will be connected over the next several years. Any organization even thinking about IoT needs to find a way to automate the onboarding and management of the devices as manual processes simply do not work, particularly because IoT devices are often deployed by the operational technology group without IT's knowledge. What will be interesting to see over time is how far Cisco takes this product and whether it wants to get into true device management, including OS upgrades, patching, and so on. But for now, this is a good start.
  • Fog computing -- Not all IoT management and analytics should be done in the cloud. For example, with retail, in-store data processing, device control, and analytics makes more sense then backhauling all that information to the cloud. Another example is for autonomous vehicles, where having to send information to the cloud and back would make the process too slow for driving decisions to be made. IoT Operations Platform includes fog computing so customers can put the compute processing where it makes sense. I was a bit skeptical of this at first, as Cisco has historically deployed fog on its Unified Computing System data center servers and that can be a bit pricey for some use cases. But fog can leverage any compute platform, including something as low cost as a Raspberry Pi, Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM of IoT and Applications at Cisco, said during a Q&A. This means processing can be done anywhere from the device itself all the way to the cloud.
  • Data delivery -- In addition to providing the connectivity and compute platform, the IoT Operations Platform offers data collection, collation, and analytics to help customers gain new insights. This component includes scalable tools for filtering and data routing to make sure the right data goes to the appropriate network, application, or endpoint.

At the show, Cisco also announced a partnership with Microsoft to develop hybrid solutions where the Azure IoT Suite is able to seamlessly connect to Cisco fog computing deployments. As I mentioned above, the application needs to determine where the computing gets done. Local fog computing enables decisions to be made faster, reduces latency, and cuts down on bandwidth. However, when data does go to the cloud, this process needs to be simple and seamless -- and that's what the Microsoft-Cisco partnership aims to do.

Lots of customers are already using Azure to build and run IoT applications and the partnership lets them extend these applications to the edge using Cisco's fog solutions in a hybrid mode without the complexity of having to stich the two platforms together manually.

The event featured enough use cases across almost every vertical to make the claim that IoT has finally arrived. However, I began this post discussing how complexity and a lack of internal skills are holding back IoT, so the momentum won't continue if things don't get easier. Cisco's announcements at IoT World Forum were aimed at the operational side of IoT so deployments can be done simpler and faster and deliver the ROI that the customer is expecting.

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