The promise of the Internet of Everything (IoE) looms near, and as the networked connections between people, process, data and things exponentially increase, the opportunity for private industry sits at $14.4 trillion USD.  And the potential for humanity is limitless.  This means that the future of information technology (IT) will look very different.

Realizing the potential of IoE will require what I have been calling the Model for Next Generation IT.  It’s a familiar view of IT, but the value is shifting in each layer.  And as the value shifts, we’re seeing new business models emerge, in great part due to the adoption of cloud computing and everything as a service (XaaS).  But we must keep in mind the value that the network delivers in the future as I wrote in my earlier blog, “Three Truths About Networking – the Next Chapter”.

In the past, category leaders that provided separate components defined the infrastructure layer of IT. In fact, we referred to them by what they delivered – server companies, storage companies, networking companies, security companies and so on.  But as we see the needs for IT shift with the consolidation of major technology trends like mobility, cloud, M2M (or the Internet of Things / IoT), big data and analytics, and a whole new breed of applications – the infrastructure needs in IT have changed. 

We’ve been hearing about converged networks and the value that they bring from technology journalists, experts and industry analysts for years, and the definitive benefits of doing so. In fact, we’ve seen calculated total addressable market (TAM) for converged infrastructure in the billions of dollars over the next two years.

Today, more than the convergence, it’s the unification of the infrastructure that will provide our customers with the greatest value.  Bringing the physical and virtual, wired and mobile infrastructures together gives companies of all sizes the opportunity to collect, analyze and use the data that traverses the network (something we’ve been calling “data in motion”) to deliver services, use applications and provide the optimal user experience through an intelligent infrastructure.

And what has in the past included “middleware” – the ambiguous layer of software for application integration – is also undergoing change.  We’re seeing the components in that middle layer consolidate to become a unified platform where software capabilities and services come together.  There are new requirements for the platform to use the infrastructure capabilities to deliver applications and services in new ways.  In this layer, the platform must:

  1. Enable programmability of the underlying infrastructure – all the way down to the silicon.
  2. Orchestrate and automate both physical and virtual resources.
  3. Provide real time analytics.
  4. Drive application affinity to the infrastructure.
  5. And enable an enhanced user experience and enhanced services delivery.

The real reason that IT must change is to adapt and support legacy applications and new applications in the workplace – because the world of applications is changing even faster than we could have imagined.  Just think about the apps that you used 5 years ago… Then how about the number and types of apps you used 2 years ago.  Now think about your use of apps today – both for personal and work.  They tend to overlap across both domains and ubiquitous access and use is the expected norm.

Specifically at the application layer we are seeing:

  1. The rise of new breeds of applications that are Cloud based and Mobile first. Companies such as DropBox, YouSendIt and Box have disrupted the storage model with their solutions. And “mobile-first” apps, like HotelTonight and PATH, are integrating location, identity, context and social capabilities to provide a valuable experience to the user.
  2. The migration of traditional enterprise apps from physical to virtual infrastructure as SaaS models like Salesforce and Workday have changed CRM and HRM systems.
  3. New application frameworks are transforming vertical industries as everything moves to IP.  We’ve seen automation in manufacturing, but there is significant potential as we look at retail, healthcare and educational opportunities in collaboration, location based and personalized services.
  4. New consumption models for applications delivered through software as a service.

And with all this change, we are seeing services in the model for Next Gen IT become extremely critical. Not only are we seeing IT budgets shift to the lines of business, but there is a demand for technology vendors to share ownership and responsibility.  Business users expect their IT investments to be more outcome-based.

The future of IT is about creating an integrated approach, incorporating the technology architectures that enable business agility, operational simplicity and improves application performance.

Model for next generation IT

For next gen IT; more than the component parts, it’s the unified framework that will use our customers’ existing investments for increased innovation, orchestrate disparate systems for simplified management and identify efficiencies for lower TCO.   Bringing the framework together does require a focus on software and integration.  And in July 2012, we introduced Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) that uses open, network-wide APIs, software controller (Extensible Network Controller), and virtual overlays to bring the layers together and ultimately provide the environment and ability to optimize applications with the intelligence from the infrastructure.

Based on our foundational strengths, we are developing a framework for tying together applications and infrastructure with a new level of simplicity, automation, orchestration, and programmability. Interfaces between layers provide end-to-end interoperability and control.  The Infrastructure represents the existing domains in data center, networking, and security. The platform layer—which Cisco calls the Unified Platform—simplifies IT operations by providing orchestration capabilities across application and infrastructure domains.  This would mean greater ease of use, for example, an HR application could enroll a new employee, and automate the creation and provisioning of collaboration services (email, phone, Cisco WebEx, Jabber), access to database applications such as travel or procurement, and relevant security and compute policies.

The idea is to create application affinity, or in other words, give the ability for applications to declare what resources they need, and for infrastructure to respond dynamically. Specifically this means that applications can announce intent, and request and receive the policy and infrastructure resources they need without manual or complicated configuration/changes by IT.  And from a northbound approach, this model for next generation IT provides for the infrastructure to, in turn, deliver data, state and other information back to applications for richer experiences and more informed end user operations.

Naturally, this approach only works if it’s open and standards-based. Cisco has a rich legacy in this area, with support for the multiple protocols in networking and other areas, to help customers navigate the many innovations around standards through the years. The unified framework supports Cisco’s feature-rich ONE, as well as interfaces and protocols like OpenFlow.  And we’ve invested resources to be a founding member of OpenDaylight to continue to develop other, industry-standard open source protocols as well. Customers can use physical resources where features and scale are important, and virtualize resources for additional flexibility. We say, that’s the best of both worlds.

You will hear Cisco talk more about this notion of a unified framework for the Internet of Everything, first in the context of bringing complexity and costs under control, and then for a way to start to capture the estimated $14.4T value at stake of the Internet of Everything. That’s when the real payoff starts: when we connect the power of people, process, data and things for new insights and business value.

How are you tackling today’s IT challenges? Let me know your thoughts.


Padmasree Warrior

Chief Technology & Strategy Officer