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5/22/2014
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Cisco IoE: When Will Its Time Come?

Cisco execs say their grand vision of the Internet of Everything is taking shape in new products and services. But some analysts and customers still find the picture fuzzy.

8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
8 Gadgets For The High-Tech Home
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Cisco CEO John Chambers declared his company "all in" on the Internet of Everything (IoE) more than a year ago, and he hasn't backed down. From his appearance at CES, where Chambers said IoE will generate $19 trillion by 2020, to the IoE-themed posters plastered around San Francisco for this week's Cisco Live, the concept pervades Cisco's messaging.

To Cisco, IoE is the Internet of Things (IoT) correctly implemented. Whether it's smartphones running Uber, connected basketballs that make you a better shooter, or railroad sensors that minimize derailments, many people and businesses are already transitioning from dumb objects to smart, connected devices. Cisco describes IoE as the network architecture that ties it all together.

IoE delivers "the right information to the right person or machine at the right time," Chambers told InformationWeek last week in an interview.

[Does Cisco CEO Chambers know the way to the promised land? Read Cisco's 3 Commandments.]

But IoE isn't a product; it's an architectural concept that includes many products. What that means for individual businesses, especially those outside obvious IoT opportunities such as manufacturing, can be fuzzy.

John Chambers speaks at this year's CES
John Chambers speaks at this year's CES

"Others in the industry are still scratching their heads about what [IoT] means, puzzling that any vendor, including Cisco, has all the pieces," said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett last week in an interview. He said IoT technologies offer long-term upside and that Cisco possesses useful pieces of the puzzle. But he dismissed economic projections as marketing tactics, and said the IoE banner is about mindshare as much as actual products.

Given its reputation as a predictor of market transitions, Cisco counts mindshare among its specialties. To that end, the company has already assembled a growing list of high-profile IoE success stories, including the City of Barcelona, which uses connected infrastructure to reduce costs and enable new services.

But critics charge Cisco itself has missed transitions. Some customers and shareholders are less interested in IoE, for example, than in IT's shift from the expensive networking gear on which Cisco made its fortune to software-defined networks (SDN) built on commodity hardware.

Cisco posted better-than-expected profits last week, including strong growth in its Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI) business, which relates to both SDN and IoE. As Chambers described it, SDN is an IoE enabler. If you think of SDN as a tree, then IoE is the forest, and Chambers, citing Cisco's prowess as a systems integrator, believes his company has an advantage because it sees both.

According to Cisco, IoE demands a distributed network architecture in which most decision-making occurs at the edge. As more machines communicate and more sensors slurp up data, sending everything to a data center becomes impractical. Edge programmability, or fog computing as Cisco calls it, can filter data, thereby avoiding bandwidth constraints. It also enables other essential IoE components, including network-wide security, real-time analytics, and more agile handling of applications.

Cisco's march toward distributed networks can be seen in many products, including its main SDN plays -- the Nexus 9000 switch and ACI. The products are partly an answer to SDN rival VMware, whose wares were the subject of unfavorable comparisons during Cisco Live product demonstrations. But again, they're also about enabling IoE.

With ACI and the Nexus 9000, Cisco combines both software and hardware, going against industry trends toward only the former. In a November interview with InformationWeek, Chambers argued businesses will spend more money over time if they attempt to do everything in software while relying on white label hardware.

[The] majority of the cost is combining vendors that weren't designed to work together. And the only thing worse than vendors that weren't designed to work together are white boxes that weren't designed to work together," he said.

One of several IoE-themed advertisements displayed in San Francisco during Cisco Live
One of several IoE-themed advertisements displayed in San Francisco during Cisco Live

In the more recent interview, Chambers reiterated this position. He maintained

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
5/28/2014 | 11:35:48 AM
Re: value proposition
Great point. As the market seeks to automate a lot of the tasks that IoE aims to streamline, are the right safeguards in place to ensure that the decisions that are made are indeed the right ones.  It's like relying on a self-driving car, in some cases would the decisions made by the onboard computer to avoid a collision be better than those of a skilled driver who can understand the environmental factors that the computer might not see?  It's about weighing the risks and really figuring out what tasks should be automated, in many cases lower-risk scenarios, rather than assuming that automation is a fix for everything.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 8:30:16 PM
The Internet of Everything means...whatever you want it to.
Everyone is trying to capture the era in a phrase. Few have been as successful as a Sun was on the eve of distributed computing and the Internet: "the network is the computer." Google's cloud architect modified that into "the data center is the computer." Not bad for what a cloud data center represents. Cisco's Internet of Everything has sweep, but lacks the earlier slogan's knack for both sweep and focus.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/22/2014 | 4:06:28 PM
value proposition
The Internet of Things is like the wearable market in that there are a few useful scenarios but there's not much in the way of a broad, cohesive value proposition. If the question were asked thus -- do we want to take this task out of the hands of biological intelligence and put in the care of artificial intelligence? -- the conversation would end much more quickly and with fewer attempts to network that which doesn't really need to be networked.
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