Product Review: Cisco IoT System
The Cisco IoT system is a suite of products and technologies dedicated to helping enterprise clients create IoT solutions for their customers. It is designed for use with large-scale systems and for companies in a range of industries. The infrastructure supports a variety of platforms and endpoints and aims to help the integration of IT with Operational Technology (OT) environments. It is also designed to support the large amounts of data present in a large-scale system, and the analytics needed to look for insights in these massive data sets.
“IoT is a significant opportunity, but one that needs interoperability and scale to fulfill industry predictions of billions of connected devices.” Cisco is aiming to be the biggest tech company whose business strategy revolves around its status as an IoT leader.
The IoT system consists of six operational “pillars” that underpin the platform; these pillars are network connectivity, fog computing, data analytics, security (cyber and physical), management and automation, and the application enablement platform. Given the scope of this product review, an overview of each pillar will be sufficient, but the Cisco IoT brochure can be utilized if a more in-depth look is desired.
Network connectivity is perhaps the most fundamental of the six pillars for Cisco’s enterprise clients. Cisco has engineered a number of purpose-built switchers and routers to handle the demands of networks for IoT applications. Specifically, networks built for these applications need to have high bandwidth and very low latency. Cisco’s product offerings here include their Industrial Ethernet 4000 Series, the first 40 Gigabit Ethernet switch line in the industry. A number of wireless access points are included in this product group as well.
The second pillar of the six is fog computing, and it describes an IoT infrastructure that lets customers analyze and manage data locally. This infrastructure makes use of open APIs, an application development framework, and core application services so that companies extend the cloud model closer to the edge devices. According to Cisco, this allows their platform to “eliminate latency and dramatically reduce bandwidth requirements” (per their IoT platform brochure).
Pillar number three is security, both physical security and cybersecurity. Since the advent of the IoT paradigm has increased the number of different types of devices, it has also increased the number of types of potential attacks. These devices are all connected in the IoT, which makes security concerns even greater. Cisco’s IoT platform has both physical and cybersecurity solutions designed to respond to all parts of the attack “timeline” – before, during and after a security attack. These solutions enforce different types of policies depending on the environment, because there is a mixture of IT and operational technology requirements in the enterprise IoT stack.
Data analytics comprise another pillar of the IoT platform. This analytics infrastructure can be used with Cisco’s Connected Analytics Portfolio or with third-party analytics tools. Cisco also has a Fog Data Services item that allows IT administrators to create policies for the management of data in the IoT system. These reside on the Cisco IOx platform, which has custom APIs to allow IOx to run directly on the nodes in the fog computing platform.
The final two pillars are application enablement and management and automation. The application enablement platform provides a set of APIs for companies to fashion their own apps based on the Cisco IoT platform. The management and automation pillar comes with an entire suite of tools, including the IoT Field Network Director, which is helpful for monitoring and customization of the IoT environment. Another tool, the Cisco Fog Director (formerly the Cisco Applications Manager), is useful for centrally maintaining multiple edge applications, all running in parallel.
While it is difficult to pass accurate sweeping judgments on an IoT system of this size, the Cisco IoT system has seemingly put Cisco at or near the top of the heap for IoT companies this year. (A 2015 ranking done by IoT Analytics listed the company 3rd out of 20 among IoT competitors, behind only Intel and Microsoft.) Cisco’s early 2016 acquisition of IoT startup Jasper Technologies was perhaps another sign that Cisco is looking to cement or bolster its status among the field. As the IoT Analytics article puts it, “The company is centering its business strategy on the Internet of Things like no other tech heavy-weight.” Its product releases bear this out as well – in June 2015, when the company announced its IoT platform, it also announced fifteen new IoT products that fell within the six pillars of the system.
As Doug Davis, Senior VP of the IoT Group at Intel, put it: “IoT is a significant opportunity, but one that needs interoperability and scale to fulfill industry predictions of billions of connected devices.” Cisco is aiming to be the biggest tech company whose business strategy revolves around its status as an IoT leader. In doing so, perhaps it can put itself ahead of the other major tech companies – even names like Google, Intel, and Microsoft – in the race to become the forerunner in the IoT industry.