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Analysis: Cisco and IBM Cozy up for Edge Analytics

Cisco Systems and IBM announced they'll collaborate on edge analytics. What is edge analytics and why does it matter?

There's no lack of analytics-at-the-edge offerings, partnerships, and promotions, most of them focused on analytics in the Internet of Things (IoT).

The latest comes via Cisco Systems and IBM, which in early June announced a new collaboration for analytics at the edge.

What is analytics at the edge? Let's have Harriet Green, general manager of IBM's Watson IoT unit, explain.

"There are clients, especially ones in remote locations, for whom the cost of transmitting data is high and the reliability is low. There are times when there's no connectivity at all, let alone high-speed connectivity. With every passing minute, the value of their IoT data diminishes," she said.

"We're combining the cognitive computing and analytics capabilities of the IBM Watson IoT Platform with Cisco's edge and fog analytics capabilities," Green continued. "The result is instant IoT insight at the edge of the network -- a huge benefit to shipping companies, vehicle fleets, [and] industrial work sites like manufacturing or drilling.

"No need to send the data over cellular, Wi-Fi, or enterprise networks. No need to wait for the critical insight that can improve the daily operations of thousands of work sites around the world. Send the right data, not all the data, to store and secure in the cloud."

Cisco will "embed" IBM's Watson analytics technologies in or with its edge switches and routers. Quite what this means isn't exactly clear. It probably means IBM will port Watson analytics to run in the context of Cisco's switches and routers. This scenario is enabled by means of Cisco IOx, the application-enablement framework Cisco announced almost two years ago.

It could also mean that joint customers will run Watson analytics on compute systems (such as Cisco's Unified Computing System blades) co-located with and/or upstream from the enterprise core.

The Cisco-IBM partnership is focused precisely on peripheral -- distributed, far-flung -- use cases.

Networking vendors tend to distinguish between network "edge" and "core" hardware. "Edge" can mean different things depending on context, however: the Wi-Fi access point that connects your laptop, iPad, or mobile phone to an enterprise network -- or to the free Wi-Fi in a restaurant or public library, for that matter -- is an edge device. So is the hardware VPN or router that functions as a gateway for remote signalers (e.g., affixed to oil pipelines or railway cars) and other connected devices.

Mike Flanagan, vice president of Cisco's data and analytics group, described the kinds of problems the two collaborators expect to address. "[I]ndustrial work sites use only a tiny percentage of the data that they collect and a big reason for this is that much of that data loses value minutes after it's collected," he said. "It takes hours, days, or sometimes months to collect and fully analyze this data in centralized systems, but what if you were able to use video analysis to monitor workers, say at a construction site, and know instantly if someone has wandered into a hazardous area?"

Flanagan's examples -- auditory analysis to detect failing machinery; supply chain optimization based on real-time weather conditions -- aren't plucked out of thin air.

Cisco's done an extraordinary amount of IoT prep work.

Eighteen months ago, the networking giant unveiled its most ambitious foray into IoT and analytics -- Cisco Connected Analytics for the Internet of Everything. This consists of a number of vertical- or function-specific offerings -- Connected Analytics for Events, Connected Analytics for Retail, Connected Analytics for Service Providers, Connected Analytics for IT, and so on -- powered by Cisco's hardware and software.

Prior to this, Cisco outlined a fog computing vision anchored by its Cisco IOx. (IOx is a play on IOS, the Internetwork Operating System that's powered Cisco's networking kit since time immemorial.) IOx makes it possible to run applications and services (developed by Cisco, Cisco partners, or third-party ISVs) on Cisco's edge networking gear.

The Cisco-IBM webcast wasn't without its incoherent moments. At one point, for example, Flanagan claimed that the combined Cisco-IBM offering delivers "the first holistic experience of the connected condition of things." He didn't expand on what that means.

Chris O'Connor, general manager of IoT offerings for IBM, used the term "alliance" to describe the Cisco-IBM collaboration. He gave a succinct description of what Cisco and IBM are about.

"Our alliance creates a hybrid approach to Internet of Things data and analytics," O'Connor said. "It's one that embeds the cognitive [computing] and business analytics capabilities of the Watson IoT Platform into Cisco devices and Fog nodes at the edge of the network. It's right at the point streaming data collection is done and it optimizes the way businesses can monitor and manage their performance."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at evets@alwaysbedisrupting.com.


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