When Cisco CEO John Chambers declared in late February that the Internet of Everything would be a cornerstone of his company's future, he offered an eye-popping statistic to support his strategy: the Internet of Everything could inject more than $14 trillion in profits into the global economy over the next decade.
That said, the comment was delivered in Silicon Valley, a place where "game changers" are announced weekly and hyperbole is part of the local tongue. Chambers delivered his speech to an audience of international business leaders, his goal to persuade them to join Cisco in developing open standards and accelerating Internet of Everything momentum. Were his remarks tech industry salesmanship, or is Chambers heralding the coming of a worldwide revolution?
Consider these four important facts about Cisco and the Internet of Everything.
1. The Internet Of Things Isn't Coming; It's Already Here
The Internet of Things is the foundation on which the Internet of Everything is based, and it's sometimes discussed as though it's an emerging idea. In reality, the concept -- which broadly describes connecting everyday objects to the Internet -- has been around for years, and is already well-represented by a number of mature technologies. By Cisco's count, there are more than 10 billion connected objects today. This population of objects ranges from refrigerators to swimming pools to trains and cars, and its effects vary from more personalized user experiences on smartphones to city-scale improvements in energy efficiency. Even Budweiser is in on the game.
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Cisco is focused on what comes next. To date, many of the devices in the Internet of Things have been developed in isolation, with a single company pursuing a narrow set of concerns. Chambers and his team believe these efforts should be unified and free from proprietary motivations. Cisco contends the devices will be most useful if they're able to communicate through an intelligent and open network that would broadly do for objects what the traditional Internet did for Web pages. The company calls this network The Internet of Everything.
2. Others Agree Much Is At Stake
Cisco has published a whitepaper to explain how trillions in extra revenue could arise, but it's not the only party hyping the Internet of Everything's potential.
Forbes columnist Elise Ackerman recently entertained the idea that an Internet of Things startup could be the next Microsoft, for example. And Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps has blogged about the role wearable technology, a prominent Internet of Things segment, will play in the future of personal computing. Research firm Garter named the Internet of Things among its Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013, stating that over 30 billion objects will be connected by 2020.
That said, enthusiasm isn't universal. As InformationWeek's Thomas Claburn recently explored, just because we can connect something doesn't mean we necessarily should. Some applications will be more worthwhile than others.
Still, Cisco and others have pointed out a wide range of applications, suggesting that even if some ventures fail, the Internet of Everything will nonetheless be an impactful movement.
3. Cisco Isn't The Only Player
Though Cisco is attempting to take a leadership role in shaping the Internet of Everything, it isn't the only major player vying for influence.
Microsoft has been working on the concept for several years. The software giant has recently promoted its StreamInsight technology, for example, which provides for near-continuous, real-time analysis of data. Many of the devices within the Internet of Things are equipped with sensors that collect information at all times, doing everything from allowing an iPhone to find a nearby restaurant to helping the NYPD catch criminals. The best way to harness all the data will be among the Internet of Everything's primary debates, so it should be no surprise that Microsoft is laying plans.
Qualcomm is another contender. Its AllJoyn project is an open source network that connects devices to one another, rather than linking each object back to the Internet. Intel is also in the field, and an Internet of Things Consortium and Internet of Things Architecture Forum already exist.
Cisco would of course be thrilled if it can unite various factions under a common umbrella. Chambers said that a cooperative, standards-based approach would spread growth across all industries. Even players who have a head start would benefit, he implied, because it's better to have a big piece of an enormous pie than a huge piece of a small one.
The goal is to get "horizontal scale," said Robert Soderbery, senior VP and GM of Cisco's enterprise networking group, in an interview. He said "people are recognizing that someone with a smart grid utility is trying to do something similar to what's happening in industrial automation and manufacturing, and that's similar to what's happening in logistics and transportation." By working within and across industries, companies can, in Cisco's view, "get out of the individual use cases" and build a platform of unprecedented scope.
4. Internet Of Everything Demands Collaboration
The Internet of Everything, whatever it looks like and whoever's vision ends up shaping it, will face numerous challenges. Forrester analyst Andrew Rose wrote in November that the movement "is a wave of change" that security and risk professionals cannot afford to miss, and indeed, issues such as security and privacy dominated discussion during the Cisco event at which Chambers spoke.
But the CEO also emphasized that the Internet of Everything will demand cooperation across business units, with CMOs and CTOs working hand in hand. A major retail strategy based around location-based analytics, for example, might require more technical consideration than past campaigns have.
The Internet of Everything will also demand that traditionally non-technical industries begin to acquire IT expertise. Many of those interested in the Internet of Everything intend to apply the tech to locations such as oil rigs and manufacturing floors, Soderbery said. "Historically, they're not IT-intensive businesses," he stated.
"Farming has not been an IT-intensive business," he continued, "but the data would show there's a productivity gain of 5% to 10% in farming by bringing the Internet of Things, big data, analytics and control systems into that world."