Rise of the Machines
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?