Cisco Blogs

Rise of the Machines

May 31, 2008 - 6 Comments

I’ve been thinking about how machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will evolve, and what it will mean for the network. We seven billion humans think we’re the majority, with about one billion of us connected to the Internet and more than three billion chatting on cell phones. But there’s another population that overshadows us: Machines. By some counts, there are 10 times as many of them as of us -over 70 billion. Most of them are not yet connected, but this will change. Cars, irrigation systems, and weather sensors are just the beginning. Proprietary, legacy systems are converging on IP due to cost efficiencies and benefits of standardization. New technologies such as Zigbee promise to tie together disparate devices in a cost-effective mesh. We sometimes joke about having a constant caffeine connection, where you’re hit with another infusion just as your energy starts to dip. But there is something to be said about delivery trucks being able to plan based on a real-time view of inventory or to simply operate more safely thanks to an automated monitoring system that can detect issues with operation or maintenance. In fact, Computerworld’s Rob Mitchell just wrote a great article about this very topic. Businesses and consumers alike can expect to see machines figuring more and more prominently in the future, which is not so far off. RSR Wireless News reported a week ago that the market for cellular machine-to-machine communications modules is expected to grow to nearly 80 million shipments in 2013, according to a new study from ABI Research. Imagine your refrigerator contacting your local grocery store to let it know that you’re running low on milk or eggs. Or, if you’ve ever been frustrated by a vending machine that has run out of your favorite beverage or snack, help is on the way. You get the idea. So what does this mean for the network?First off, we’re not talking about bandwidth. Or at least, not always. A coke machine is not on IP-TV, unless you want to be entertained while waiting for the cold stuff. Now think of the corner gas station. You may not have noticed, but small displays with news and ads are popping up on top of gas pumps–at least in my neighborhood. This could be an opportunity for ad insertion. But the real challenge is in management and security. How do we effectively control these devices? How do we provide this control to those (and only those) who require it–both at the desk and on the road? We need to be smart about balancing access with security. For instance, a university or government may want access to data from weather, irrigation, and soil sensors for climate analysis. So what’s the best way to provide IP addresses to all those endpoints? How do we prioritize critical systems against those requiring best-effort? At Cisco, we’re addressing these issues. And, we’re adapting what we’ve learned in delivering the Internet to the first billion users, to the next 100 billion–be they human or machine.But I’d like to hear from you. Tell me about your experiences or observations with M2M. What security concerns come up for you?

In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. It sure is fastinating stuff...

  2. It surely is amazing how machines have evolved from mere gym instruments(these are machines after all) to advanced robots.Life surely has become easier and unemployment is rising due to the intelligence capability of these bots.Nice Article by the way. Enjoyed reading it :)

  3. Marie, While not your area can you provide me a contact in your Cisco Smart Business Communications System Product Management/Development area. IMS has a new product not-yet-announced that would enhance that Unified Messaging Solution perfectly. Let me know, or please pass along my contact info, thanks,John

  4. John, I was able to spend some time on your company's site recently. In looking at DriveSync, I can see where concerns about data ownership would arise. I live in Massachusetts, where the auto insurance practices have changed dramatically in the past few years. Vehicle tracking is one of those Big Brother is watching"" issues that has stirred hot debate in our state. A few years back, we saw how heated this debate could become when Massachusetts Dept of Public Works wanted to install vehicle tracking systems in snow plows owned and operator by private contractors. The drivers argued privacy. The state argued efficiency. All the while, tax payers screamed for safe roads. I did note the security measures you offer with DriveSync. Interesting how the data ownership and access debate can be a bigger barrier to implementation than the technology itself. One last thing... I also noted your company's in-vehicle Heart Monitoring System. Did you see the recent Cisco Platform blog on heart monitoring? It is at: This blog entry was prompted by news of active wireless heart monitoring. Talk about security issues! WOW!Thanks for contributing to our Platform blog. We certainly appreciate the interest and support."

  5. Marie, the scope of possibilites is daunting. Our work in M2M is about vehicle data (diagnostics) and vehicle usage, while we are working with vehicle to vehicle communication and the implications for mesh networks to enable this, as well as the current technologies (gprs, WiMax, active RFID and basic wifi). This has applications for safety (notification of a road issue 2km ahead) or for user features (better traffic flow, or communication to an individual in a specific car). You mentioned device management and security - who does own the data that moves through a mesh network (vehicles or homes, or tablet PC's, Kindle devices). While infrastructure planning is essential so is the business case to ensure these ideas take shape and are implemented.Your device management comments of course can relate to Smart Grid developments which I believe Cisco is getting some US Stimulus funding to do even more research on - that must be exciting!Rise of the Machines is an apt title for your blog is coming and resistance is futile (to borrow a phrase).

  6. John, thanks for your comment. It's an interesting discussion as we look into the future of this. Right now, a lot of people are focused on the challenge of video, which requires the network to manage and move large chunks of time-sensitive information between a relatively low number of network endpoints at any one time. As we move toward M2M, though, the network will need to support what will likely be a staggering increase in the number of small chunks of information moving among literally billions of endpoints. And these types of exchanges, while small, occur continually, with a wide range of time sensitivities. A network needs to manage both extremes. Just as video is driving new networking advancements, M2M networks are pushing network technology in new directions. Certainly, the sheer endpoint population growth will hasten IPv6 adoption. While M2M exchanges may not drive bandwidth requirements like video, the dramatic increase in the number of interactions will demand efficiency improvements in connection management and session/information integrity capabilities. With M2M, networks will be even more reliant on automated deployment, operations, and problem resolution. Think of the challenge of diagnosing and fixing a simple"" problem with thousands of hidden sensors that are sending data in multiple directions. Think of a machine controlling water flow, safety mechanisms, a manufacturing line robot, or a moving vehicle. Reliable, immediate response and interaction become critical requirements, not merely expectations. Our early Smart Grid work and utility company interactions are bearing this out. And this is just the start! Care to share more about M2M applications with in-vehicle devices?"