Programmable networks will power 'Internet of Everything,' says Cisco

The company's SDN strategy and programmable chips give it an edge over rivals, executives said

For the Internet of Things to become a reality, networks need to get a whole lot smarter and more flexible, according to Cisco.

The company aims to build an "Internet of Everything" that will link sensors, mobile devices and network infrastructure, Chief Strategy and Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior said Wednesday.

Cisco estimates this will be a US$14.4 trillion business opportunity, with ways to make and save money in sectors including manufacturing, health care, smart power grids and the public sector. Services that bring in data from many sources and require distributed processing will make networks even more crucial than they are today, the company says.

"Ninety-nine percent of the things in the world today are still not connected to the Internet," said Rob Lloyd, Cisco's president for sales and development, who joined Warrior for a press day at the company's headquarters in San Jose, California.

Though there are 92 different legacy protocols used in connected devices today, Cisco expects most of those objects eventually to connect using IP (Internet Protocol), playing into Cisco's own area of strength.

Programmability will be crucial to making those combined systems useful, Warrior said. Cisco hopes to take advantage of that with its Cisco ONE software-defined networking strategy and the internally developed processors in its gear.

As an example of a use for this new type of infrastructure, Warrior laid out a way shoppers might plan a trip to a downtown store. The retailer's mobile app could share real-time data about wait times in the store and combine that with information from a city-run system that used embedded sensors to determine how many parking spaces were free nearby. Drivers arriving at the parking lot could make a short-range peer-to-peer wireless connection with a kiosk to get a map to the nearest space available at that time.

Cisco has equipped a parking lot at its own headquarters with such sensors under each space, with a system to reserve room for a car and then find the nearest available space on arriving. This can prevent time and fuel wasted looking for parking, Warrior said.

The combination of sensor data, cloud-based services and distributed, local processing will be repeated across many industries, Warrior said. It will fuel new types of applications that will require more programmable networks, she said.

Cisco ONE is the company's strategy to make networks better understand applications. At its core is onePK (ONE Platform Kit), which will include 710 APIs (application programming interfaces) that developers can use to take advantage of features in Cisco's existing and future network equipment, according to Lloyd. Those APIs will let developers address the US$180 billion installed base of Cisco gear, he said.

Cisco ONE has been called Cisco's answer to SDN (software-defined networking), though the company says it's going beyond other SDN approaches, which focus on separating the control from the transport layer of the network.

"Our vision is much broader. We see the network as a platform," Warrior said. Cisco says its approach allows for more programmability.

The company's ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) bring another element of programmability, Lloyd said, showing off chips for Cisco's Catalyst 3850 switch and ASR1000 Aggregation Services Routers. Developers will be able to gain access to the software that runs on those ASICs through Cisco ONE, Lloyd said.

"ASICs in the products, with software and services, I think, is going to allow Cisco to really, really shake this industry," Lloyd said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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