John Chambers thinks IT departments can get their CEOs excited about the Internet of Things in the same way CEOs got excited about e-commerce -- because it has potential to either boost their revenues or threaten their business models. Cisco CEO Chambers, speaking at Interop New York Tuesday, said it will lead to the "next wave of relevance" for IT.
The critical driver is the explosion of devices connected to the Internet -- everything from smartphones to smarter devices, such as sensors on industrial equipment, vehicles and consumer gadgets. Connected devices isn't a radical idea; it's the scale, said Chambers, that will make this trend powerful, going from 10 billion devices in 2010 to a predicted 50 billion by 2020, "and that number is probably way too low," he said.
As an example of why CEOs will care about connected devices, Chambers showed a demonstration of a Cisco system that lets someone entering a hospital log on to the Wi-Fi network using a personal ID or Facebook credential. Because it's a personalized login, it allows an app to pop up on the user's mobile device with individualized information, such as directions to the medical appointment.
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The patient can then get location-specific information because the wireless access points are sharing his device's location information. Chambers urged people to consider how that kind of individualized use case could be used in other industries, such as retail or hotels.
For IT infrastructure, Chambers predicted the Internet of Things will bring a focus on what he called an "application economy." IT infrastructure in its first generation focused on the hardware. The next generation of virtualization and cloud gave IT the operational flexibility to focus less on hardware and more on results and performance. With the application economy, Chambers predicted the focus will be on supporting a huge number of applications on all these connected devices. Cisco's pitch for that: you need data center software and hardware designed to work together to support that kind of app environment. "Software by itself won't get the job done," Chambers said.
Not everyone agrees with that approach, of course. But whatever the right strategy, IT is going to have to create new computing resources to make sense of large volumes and new types of data, coming in from devices varying from a customer's smartphone app to a gas well's operating data. Coping with this application economy and the Internet of Things is a big enough challenge, said Chambers, that "I think that will power our industry for the next decade."