Cisco Moving Apps to the Network Edge for Internet of Things

Cisco's IOx offering will include a Linux OS to help bring software to the network's edge, where data in the IoT is being generated.

Cisco Systems is looking to extend computing capabilities to the edge of the network, a concept company officials are calling "fog computing" and a necessary step given the expected growth of the Internet of things.

At the Distributech smart grid event Jan. 29 in San Antonio, Cisco officials unveiled the networking vendor's new IOx platform, which is designed to bring distributed computing capabilities to the edge of the network by running applications directly on Cisco network devices, such as ruggedized switches, routers and IP video cameras.

The idea is to bring the computational capabilities needed to process and manage the massive amount of data generated by the billions of connected devices—which make up the Internet of things (IoT)—out to where the data is being generated, rather than having to bring all that data all the way back into the data center. It also will increase the value of the network to end-user organizations, according to Guido Jouret, general manager of Cisco's Internet of Things Business Group.

"We believe that this turns the network into the fourth platform for computing (in addition to PCs, mobile and cloud), which will unleash new applications in manufacturing, transportation, smart cities and many other industries," Jouret said in a statement.

As more people, devices and systems—from manufacturing machines to household appliances to IP surveillance cameras—connect to the Internet, they create and grow the IoT and generate huge amounts of data that need to be processed, managed, stored and analyzed. A wide range of tech vendors see the IoT as a significant business opportunity, and some—like Intel and Cisco—have gone so far as to create business units around it.

Cisco—which views the IoT as a part of a larger Internet of everything (IoE), which not only includes "things" but also people and applications—expects that by 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices, and that even now, people, devices and systems generate 2.5 exabytes of data every day. For example, airplanes create 10 terabytes of data for every 30 minutes of flight, while a large refinery generates 1TB of raw data every day.

Officials with the networking vendor have called the IoT the biggest transition in the tech industry since the Internet, and have said that the IoE offers a $19 trillion opportunity for the world's businesses by 2020. Cisco executives have said they expect the company to be a leader in the IoT space. IOx is another step in that push by enabling end users to run applications close to where the data is being generated and to create automated responses to the data. The IOx platform not only runs Cisco's IOS networking operating system, but also a Linux OS, both on a single networking device.

"For industrial IoT environments Cisco is now enabling the network infrastructure to play for industrial sensors the part that the smartphone plays for personal gear," Roberto De La Mora, senior director of worldwide collaboration solutions marketing at Cisco, wrote in a post on the company's blog. "In essence, Cisco is enabling access to computing and storage resources within the network devices to host applications and interfaces as close as the devices as possible, thus enabling Fog via the network."

Cisco officials laid out a number of examples of how IOx could work, including in a smart energy distribution scenario, where applications running on a network edge system can automatically switch from one energy source to another based on demand, availability and price. Another involves smarter traffic lights, where a video camera can sense an ambulance approaching with its lights flashing, and can automatically change the streetlights to create open lanes in the traffic for the ambulance.

Cisco expects to begin offering IOx capabilities in its industrial routers this spring.