Friday, July 14, 2017

Cisco – fog computing power combined with IoT management

by James E. Carroll

This week brings the 28th occurrence of Cisco Live!, the company's big technology and customer showcase (previously known as Networkers) that brings thousands of attendees to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. The big news was unveiled at a press conference last week in San Francisco, with Cisco seeking to 'reinvent networking' by applying machine learning to new network platforms powered by custom ASICs and secured via the Cisco Talos threat management platform. With this big news already out the door, the Cisco Live! event can focus on other topics including the company’s budding partnerships with Apple and Ericsson, as well as the theme of edge computing, which is gaining momentum across the industry.

Bringing compute power to the edge

As the number of connected devices grows, the flow of data from the edge of the network to the core increases. In his Cisco Live! key note, company CEO Chuck Robbins observed that we are already in a multi-cloud world. In the IoT context, this is good because data will flow from the edge to multiple cores, thus avoiding the problem of single point for concentration. Another increasingly popular term for this is fog computing. The recently published Cisco Visual Networking Index (VNI) predicts that M2M connections will represent 46% of connected devices by 2020.

There is the possibility to distribute general purpose computing resources at the edge of the network. By processing data at the edge, we can determine which data needs to be transported to a core data centre and which data can be acted on locally. Once it has been determined which data should be sent to the core, there is a need to transport it securely. Devices need to be managed and traffic analysed to understand the impact on network performance. Cisco already provides these capabilities through its edge devices and with its Cisco Jasper platform. The idea is to expand the Jasper franchise, thus building a business with predictable and recurring revenue in a market segment with extremely fast growth.

The Jasper connection and Edge processing

In February 2016, Cisco acquired Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion in cash and assumed equity awards. The deal was finalised the following month. The Santa Clara, California-based start-up, headed by Jahangir Mohammed, a serial entrepreneur known for his previous company Kineto Wireless, developed a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) platform to manage connected devices. At the time the Cisco acquisition was announced, Jasper claimed to have 3,500 enterprise customers and 27 service provider customers. Jasper had been working with AT&T on connected device management since at least 2009.

Currently, Cisco Jasper claims over 11,000 enterprises and 43 million devices using its IoT management platform. One notable customer is Amazon which manages Kindle devices using Cisco Jasper. Listed service provider customers include AT&T, Telefonica, Singtel, KT, China Unicom, NTT Docomo, VimpleCom, Vivo, Bell, Telus, Rogers, Comcast, Optus, Telstra, Etisalat, TIM, O2, and many others. In the automotive sector, Cisco Jasper is used by a number of manufacturers, including Ford, GM, Subaru, and VW. Several of these players, notably GM, are now including connected car service as a basic feature for many models, which means tens of thousands of new connections every month for a single customer. At Cisco Live!, Chuck Robbins said the 1.7 million new devices are being managed by Cisco Jasper every month. In fact, Cisco now claims this to be the world’s largest IoT connectivity management platform.

The idea of actionable intelligence at the network edge is a powerful one. One example cited at Cisco Live is Chevron, the multinational energy company based in San Ramon, California. As one of the largest oil companies worldwide, Chevron has drilling operations in locations across the west coast of North America, the U.S. gulf coast, Australia, Nigeria, Angola, Kazakhstan, and other locations. In the U.S., Chevron operates approximately 11,000 oil and natural gas wells. Its $43 billion Gorgon Gas Project in rural Western Australia is the largest liquified natural gas (LNG) initiative in the world. Drilling is extremely data intensive activity, and rigs and wells are being equipped with every possible type of automated sensors, resulting in a tremendous flow of data. Previously, achieving actionable intelligence from a rig out in the field typically took 2 weeks. With its IoT edge processing, Cisco said it is able cut actionable intelligence response time to under 2 seconds.

Chevron is an interesting example of edge computing which could be quite powerful in many vertical applications. For service providers, although edge processing might reduce the total volume of data traversing the network, it makes the flow of sensor data more predictable. It also makes the network more intelligent and therefore of higher value to the end customer. Service providers working on IoT will probably look to follow this model. Cisco says that by transforming IoT sensor data, fog applications like this can also benefit its ecosystem partners. The distributed IoT network can function as the compute environment for fog applications. Other examples of deployed fog applications include site asset management, energy monitoring, and smart parking.

The first evolution of Cisco Jasper

Fifteen months after completing the Jasper acquisition, Cisco is announcing the first upgrade to the platform under its ownership. Cisco Jasper Control Center 7.0 focuses on lifecycle automation, analytics, security, cost management and back-end integration. Enhancements in this release include better tools for traffic segmentation to allow deeper revenue and service models, as well tools to prevent attacks at the DNS layer. It also offers:

·         Advanced capabilities via a new tier of the platform – Control Center Advanced – which caters to customers with more sophisticated deployments that need greater capabilities, including advanced security solutions, automation and analytics.

·         Premium services, a threat protection and smart security (TPSS) service that provides an IoT-specific solution to protect against malware and other cybersecurity threats built on Cisco Umbrella; traffic segmentation provides a new solution to support different types of revenue generation models, with Cisco Jasper service providers can customize premium services to meet their customers’ specific needs.

·         LPWAN Support: Control Center 7. extends the platform's capabilities, including the platform's global reach and scale via support for cellular networks to low power devices via support for multiple LPWAN technologies including NB-IoT and LTE-M.

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