Cisco brings Intent-based to the IoT, unveils new kit and services

Cisco is ramping up for MWC by announcing a new set of IoT networking kit designed for use in the field. The network-edge equipment features Cisco’s new ‘Intent-based Networking’ (IBN) stack, which is essentially a way to automate the installation and then the operation of the networks being deployed. It comes as Cisco’s conventional Ethernet and WiFi offerings come under pressure from the IoT crowd, kitted out with LPWAN systems that would love to snaffle big deals where they sense an opportunity.

As such, Cisco is making a big deal out of the experience of using its products and services, looking to leverage its vast networking expertise to provide what it hopes is an unmatched experience. This means that more attention is being paid to the upper layers of the stack, rather than the equipment at the very edge.

These include updates for Cisco’s DevNet developer program, with new tools that it says will enable customers and partners to have an easier time unleashing innovation at the edge. Cisco touts a new ‘consistent way to build and manage applications at the edge and enable the extra flexibility customers need to enable better business outcomes.’

A new IoT Developer Center is also on show, as are reference designs for IoT architectures that have been validated by Cisco, aimed at utilities, manufacturing, and mobile asset management. These are called Cisco Validated Designs, and the blueprint includes bill of materials, configurations, security best practices, and system design, according to the announcement.

The goal with the new developer support is to speed up the time to market, and so improve Cisco’s sales forecast, as its partners and their customers install Cisco equipment and pay for its services. Cisco is aware that the IoT needs to be easy to deploy, as there aren’t enough sysadmins to go manually configure each component in such labyrinthine networks, and so it appears to have effectively benched the usual focus that would be paid to the performance and specifications of the hardware – hardware nerds; be warned.

On show at Cisco Live Barcelona were the new IBN-enabled Catalyst switches and Integrated Service Routers (IE3200, IE3300, IE3400, and IR1101). Cisco is singing the praises of the modularity of the offering, which should mean that customers can tweak to their heart’s desire, and scale easily when they need to. The switches have also gained more Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) ports, for powering connected devices like cameras and sensor hubs.

Cisco also quietly makes the claim that the IR1101 is one of the first 5G-ready industrial routers, and thanks to the modular approach, customers should be able to upgrade to support 5G without having to rip and replace. We are somewhat skeptical that such installations will be as easy as Cisco thinks, and will keep our ears open for user reports.

“In IoT, the conversation is about business outcomes. It starts with secure connectivity as the foundation of every IoT deployment. By providing scale, flexibility and security, we’re turning the network into a secret weapon for our IoT customers,” said Liz Centoni, SVP and GM IoT at Cisco. “And, with a new DevNet IoT developer center, we’re empowering thousands of partners and developers around the world to build upon our IoT platform.”

The stack-escalation trend is not unique to Cisco. There’s a strong case to be made that the approach is one of the best ways to reduce churn, as the more components you sell to a customer, the lower the chance they will turn to a rival – as the burden of detaching from you is so large.

Similarly, there are economies of scale to be enjoyed by the customers and the suppliers, and in turn there are more partnership opportunities. Of course, the consolidation could come at the expense of a diverse marketplace, as the successful players crowd-out their smaller competitors, but consolidation seems somewhat inevitable these days.

For green-field opportunities like the IoT, buyers are appreciative of the one-stop-shop approach, as it makes deployment easier for them to envision and implement. However, once they begin to scale their initial project, there is room for smaller more specialist suppliers to work their way into the deal, as in most cases, the large providers are not able to cover all bases efficiently.