CIO Zone

Cisco outlines its IOT strategy

Read time 4min 40sec

Companies have no reason to feel inadequate if they are battling to design or implement a project around the Internet of things (IOT); even networking giant Cisco took a while to figure it out.

"When IOT first came out, we were lost as a company, we were all over the place," admitted Eddy Busaidy, an IOT sales specialist for Cisco's Middle East and Africa region.

The company managed to hone its strategy by asking where it could provide value, and leaving the other components and services to partners in the ecosystem. That clarity of vision has seen Cisco combine all its IOT offerings into a dedicated business unit, rather than having the relevant products spread among different business units as it did previously.

Busaidy was leading a technology session at the Cisco Connect 2019 conference in Sun City this week. First, he asked for a show of hands as to how many people had deployed an IOT project, then queried how many had been successful. "That's the big issue," he said.

There were three main reasons a business decided to follow an IOT strategy, Busaidy said: to optimise the business processes, increase revenue or enhance the customer experience.

A typical goal is to connect remote locations to the core network so they could achieve the same capabilities as can be achieved in the central campus.

Another common goal is to gain visibility of remote or mobile assets, for more effective fleet management or to better monitor manufacturing plants, for example.

The process is well established, in theory: first, sensors are connected to the remote devices; then the data they generate is extracted and analysed in real-time to gain intelligence for making more informed business decisions. Finally, the data is stored securely in the cloud.

"But there are challenges, and the first is connecting the unconnected or remote devices," Busaidy said. "Everyone is scared to connect unconnected devices because of security, and once you do connect them, it increases the threats."

Busaidy quoted research data showing that almost 70% of CIOs worried about this aspect of IOT projects because of security, and only 25% were confident they knew all the devices that were already on their networks.

The Kinetic range

The session in Sun City built on a recent announcement at Cisco Live 2019 in Barcelona, where new IOT products were announced, including industrial switches and routers powered by the IOS XE operating system.

Around those, Cisco has added new tools for developers and released validated blueprints for IOT architectures that have been proven to deliver results in specific industry verticals.

Cisco's IOT products are branded as the Kinetic range, with modules that work together to securely connect devices, then allow the data to be extracted, computed and moved into the cloud.

The range includes a secure Gateway Management Module that lets users view and control the gateways from a cloud-based dashboard. The Edge and Fog Processing Module lets users compute data in distributed nodes to make critical decisions near the point of action.

Then the Data Control Module moves the right data from these diverse connected devices to the right cloud-based applications, according to policies set by the data owner.

Analysing data in the fog, or on the periphery of the cloud, saves resources, Busaidy said. "We send terabytes of data to the cloud and we don't need it all, only a bit of it, so we can do some analysis on the edge and only extract data the customer needs. After you have analysed it at the edge in the fog, we move it to the cloud, and we don't care at all which cloud it is; we build software that lets you send it to wherever you want it to go."

Industries and partners

Cisco has decided to target certain industries with its IOT offerings, including oil and gas, transportation, factories and retail. Its technologies are all designed to operate in harsh environments and withstand extremely high or low temperatures, shocks, or vibration, and still function for a decade or more.

Cisco would never be in the business of building sensors, leaving that to third-parties, but it played well in the connectivity space, Busaidy said. "For Cisco's IOT portfolio, the network is our bread and butter," and the second focus is around data control and security across all layers of the IOT framework. "But we are not playing in the apps or sensors areas at all."

Since Cisco cannot run IOT projects alone, it needs its partners to focus on those opportunities. To encourage them, it has launched a programme to fund IOT Essential Training for some of its partners. Unfortunately, that has not been rolled out to South Africa yet, Busaidy told the audience, but he promised that South Africa is on the funding road map.

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