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Cisco Live Europe: Intent-based networking meets the IoT head-on

Networking and communications technology supplier Cisco plans to bring intent-based networking techniques to bear on the internet of things

Enterprises often struggle to capitalise on the potential inherent within the internet of things (IoT) and many projects are doomed to fail. Pitfalls include lack of scalability, security holes you could drive a truck through, and specific project needs and requirements that mean a one-size-fits-all approach will never work out.

At least, that is according to Cisco, which this week unveiled a swathe of enhancements to its IoT business, chief among them the extension of intent-based networking (IBN) to the network edge.

More than 15,000 people descended on Barcelona’s Fira conference centre – which in less than a month will also host over 100,000 people for Mobile World Congress – to learn about how the network is reinventing itself. At the show, Cisco cemented its credentials as a software-led firm, eager to capitalise on this transition.

“In IoT, the conversation is about business outcomes,” said Liz Centoni, senior vice-president and general manager of IoT at Cisco.“It starts with secure connectivity as the foundation of every IoT deployment. By providing scale, flexibility and security, we are turning the network into a secret weapon for our IoT customers.”

In Cisco’s words, IBN represents a “fundamental shift” in how networks are provisioned and run, eliminating many time-consuming, manual steps in the network management process by using machine learning techniques to understand business intent and translate that into optimum network policy. Cisco first launched its IBN portfolio in the summer of 2017.

Backed by a purpose-built and enhanced IoT networking platform that includes new Catalyst industrial switches and industrial routers powered by Cisco’s IOS XE IBN operating system, and is managed through its DNA Center, IBN should bring three core benefits to the network edge where IoT devices and sensors reside.

Firstly, by simplifying IoT deployment, teams will now be able to bring their familiarity with tools such as DNA Center to scale in an automated, simpler way, so that complex deployments can perhaps be done in minutes.

Secondly, said Cisco, the marriage will offer more flexibility, with a modular design meaning that Cisco platforms are easily upgraded and, importantly, future-proof. Customers will be able to upgrade their IoT to account for 5G, for example, without replacing most of the network. It claims its new industrial router is the world’s first 5G-ready IPv6 deployable industrial router.

Thirdly, IBN at the edge will enable a multi-layered security approach, minimising or eliminating gaps in coverage, with security baked into every part of the IoT stack, from sensor or device level to operating systems and edge compute apps.

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“We closely collaborated with Cisco on Cisco’s new compact, low-power industrial router to meet the stringent environmental and safety standards used in the utilities industry,” said Didier Hinguant, telecom director at French power grid operator Enedis.

“We operate and deploy our connected grid with thousands of Cisco routers via Field Network Director zero-touch provisioning, with an agile, highly secure and future-proof network using IPv6 to address our scalability constraints.”

At the same time, Cisco has beefed up its developer programme, DevNet, with new tools to enable customers and partners to innovate at the IoT edge consistently and flexibly; introduced new validated design blueprints for IoT architecture best practice for the utilities, manufacturing, and remote and mobile assets sectors, helping customers to move rapidly from proof of concept to deployment; and is offering more IoT training options for its channel partner programme.

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