Cisco's Intercloud could supercharge its IoT plans

The company's IOx edge-computing platform could mesh with its cloud plan to improve IoT performance

Cisco Systems' "Intercloud" platform for interoperable cloud services could be combined with remote-computing technology to define the so-called Internet of Things from the weather-ravaged, intermittently connected edge to regional and global data centers.

The Intercloud is Cisco's vision for a "cloud of clouds" that encompasses both Cisco data centers and those of its partners. The system, to be based on OpenStack, would be able to handle any workload on any hypervisor and work with any public or private cloud, the company said. Cisco plans to invest US$1 billion in its cloud business over the next two years, it said in an announcement at its Partner Summit on Monday. It plans to sell cloud services directly to customers and through channel partners.

While the Intercloud will help to place data and computing power closer to where it's needed, in specific countries and regions, Cisco is also working on spreading some data processing out all the way to the edge of the network. Its IOx platform, which will combine Linux with the company's IOS (Internetworking Operating System) on rugged routers and other gear, will place computing power in ships, rail cars, electrical grids and other hard-to-reach locations.

For example, sensors on a cargo ship can monitor whether the containers on board have shifted en route or gotten too hot or too cold. All those readings may add up to more data than is economical to send in real time to a data center half a world away via a narrowband satellite link, said Guido Jouret, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Internet of Things Business Unit. There's also no way to use that information until the ship is in port. A specialized Cisco router on the ship could collect the sensor data over an onboard wireless network, summarize it, and share the summary over a fast cellular network after it comes into port.

IOx is due to start shipping by May in the Cisco CGR1240, a weather-proofed router for outdoor use, and in other systems after that. It will let companies code their own interfaces to specialized networks and write Linux-based applications to run on Cisco's hardened routers. IOx is also coming to Cisco switches and cameras for use in the field.

By combining IOx and the Intercloud, with software-defined networks in between, Cisco says it can make sure computing and communication work as needed across a far-flung infrastructure. This lets IT administrators distribute computing across the core and edge and guarantee data delivery between them, Jouret said.

"You're now controlling the highways. You could reprogram or reconfigure the links between your clouds to enforce security or quality of service, whereas in the regular public Internet, you cannot," he said.

It's the combination of those specific pieces that will make this a reality. "You create a capability that you can't get from someone else," Jouret said.

One partner in the Intercloud project, SAP, is interested in taking in summarized data from IOx into its Hana database, which will be part of the Intercloud infrastructure, Jouret said.

Few if any rivals could create what Cisco wants to make, between the edge network gear and the large-scale computing and infrastructure, said Steve Hilton of IoT consulting firm Machnation.

"If you're another company, you can copy a single piece of the solution. It gets much more difficult when you have to copy a whole series of pieces of the solution across different layers of the stack and then integrate it," Hilton said.

IoT is essentially a "big data" problem, but one where the biggest challenge can be transmitting the data in a technically and financially sensible manner, said Pund-IT analyst Charles King. Though Hewlett-Packard and other companies are also addressing both networking and computing, Cisco is well-positioned to solve this problem, King 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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Stephen Lawson

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