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CiscoLive Milan Highlights: IoE, SDN and a lot of wine

Aside from an ill-timed Milanese taxi strike and a lot of rain and snow, the first CiscoLive of 2014 was a fascinating week. Cisco EVP Rob Lloyd announced our latest Cisco ONE capabilities with a new APIC Enterprise module and the new Inter Cloud capability for moving workload (virtual machines) between private and public clouds.  Both of these announcements underscore Cisco’s expansion into software-defined infrastructure. Now IT administrators can centrally apply policies across data center, WAN and access networks and transparently move workloads and apps across private and public clouds. Now, that’s agility. That’s lower operational costs.

Internet of Everything…Italian style

Meanwhile, in the Cisco booth, we showed how the Internet of Everything can impact an industry--namely wine production as our local example. The demonstration started with a connected vineyard, with sensors in the ground and on the vines providing data to make grape growing efficient, higher yield, and higher-quality. The second demo stop was bottling, where tracking data can provide more efficiencies to the vintner and guarantee of quality for the consumer. Third was distribution, which involved fleet tracking and correlating sales patterns with distribution information. This means more quality assurance for the consumer, and verification for the sellers. Naturally, we also included in the demo the consumer experience, with a little wine tasting, courtesy of Corliano wines. This brought together social media, on-site expertise, more information for the consumer, and data tracking of the whole thing. We had our pals from i-robot on site, cruising the booth in a mobile telepresence unit called the Ava 500 (which sadly did not have a Roomba integrated into it). You can see how this type of application could be used for expertise in the field, onsite troubleshooting for the vintner, or even a special experience for consumers. Private wine tasting with Robert Parker over telepresence, anyone?

You can see how this example brings together people (consumers, growers, vintners and distributors), process (growing, bottling, distribution and sales), data from all of those sources, and things, namely the grapes and wine. It’s all connected and loads of sensors (IoT), collaboration technologies, big data, mobility and networking make it all possible. That’s the Internet of Everything. Think about the possibilities for medical care, or government services or raising your kids.

More and more IT is being asked to drive business value and it is vital that we consider the opportunities that technology can create, but also the operational burden that requires. This means balancing growth initiatives with efforts to reduce operational costs. That sentence has been true for 20+ years in IT, but thanks to some advances in management—increasingly called orchestration and automation—along with programmability and the advent of lots of new data from new sources—thanks to IoT and mobility—we have some opportunities to more closely align IT with the business.

A few additional takeaways from Milan:

  • Management is getting much more interesting these days. From orchestration and automation via SDN to more sophisticated and easy to use management apps for security or networking or virtualization, tools available now are bringing a new level of automation and control for rolling out new apps and services and managing the infrastructure.  In addition to the Cisco Prime management portfolio, other companies like SevOne, Netoptics, Netscout and Nupsys showed off their latest tools at CiscoLive.
  • The IoT conversation is rapidly becoming a mainstream IT conversation for several reasons. First, prevalence of connected sensors and connected body applications are raising general awareness. The Google – Nest deal kicked this into high gear. Second, the opportunities of connecting devices and data with people and location are starting to seem infinite. The recent season of giving fitbits, fuelbands, and jawbone ups as presents gave us all an opportunity to contemplate what else might we track and measure. Third, the awareness of security implications of intermittently connected devices sending information from a diaspora of locations is growing.
  • Hot topics in the 300+ packed CiscoLive break-out sessions were on our newly announced DevNet, SDN, collaboration, data center, big data, and IOT. One white hot panel was the business implications of SDN, with particularly engaged crowd listening to a panel of experts from BT, Gartner, OpenDayLight, and Cisco. The SDN business use cases discussed—which ranged across the data center, WAN and access--went far beyond the decoupling of the control and forwarding plans to incorporate orchestration and services. These will have deep organizational impacts and will change the face of IT.  Jim Grubb will be delving in to some of these issues around SDN in an upcoming blog so look for that.
  • Figuring out how to mine the insights in big data is a wide open (and reasonably scary) arena. Companies and tools that monitor and analyze non-structured data and do correlation are creating huge opportunities for insights. You can see all sorts of interesting patterns and views of existing activities and eventually get predictive context. This is a step beyond contextualized or personalized services and information.  Amazon is thinking about this, with their patents on predicting and preparing what you will buy based on what you have already purchased. And that’s just the beginning.
  • For all of these reasons, security should be one of our top concerns, once again. Not only should the specter of 50B connected devices and the adoption of centralized controllers give us pause about what’s gaining access to the network and how, but the whole notion of what’s secure should be re-thought. Moving back to a cash-based economy is not going to cut it. Our security colleagues talk about threat defense ‘before, during and after’ across the entire infrastructure. This should be a mandate for us all.
  • A new model for IT: These forces are all adding up to a requirement that we rethink the model for IT. That new model means a drive for less complexity, more agility and comprehensive security. We tend to call this Fast IT, or next-generation IT. You might not yet call this a new model for IT, but it is.

What are your thoughts about next-gen IT? Tweet me at @eschroedercisco. Find out for yourself how a new model for IT transform your business at Cisco Executive Perspectives.

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