Cisco has launched an ambitious initiative for data analytics, bidding to be the company that not only provides the network to an enterprise or service provider but also helps that company extract market knowledge from it.
In other words, “Cisco’s networks will analyze us,” as Quentin Hardy of The New York Times put it.
And it does mean networks will watch us. Cisco’s release cites two examples that have come up repeatedly in wireless networking: sports stadiums and retail outlets. In the case of sports, analytics could flag whether the stadium Wi-Fi is letting fans down. Maybe more importantly to the business side, analytics could make in-seat food ordering more efficient.
On the retail side, the use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth means a cellphone user’s path through a store can be tracked; Cisco thinks video surveillance, another network it participates in, can contribute information as well. Shoppers’ foot-traffic patterns and impulse buying habits could be gleaned by the network. Whether this is a good thing is an exercise left to the reader.
This has implications for software-defined networking (SDN) as well. Virtualized, automated networks would ideally be built with feedback loops, so that as demand peaks, more resources can be activated in an area, whether it’s a corner of the data center, a region of a carrier network, or a network slice owned by a particular cloud user. Analytics including Cisco’s would feed that loop.
As for why Cisco feels compelled to do this now, the idea of course ties into the Internet of Everything (IoE), the hyperconnected future that is Cisco’s current obsession. The network is teeming with user data, especially at the edge, where that information is highly distributed and often mobile, whether it comes from people or machines.
It’s also another way for Cisco to broaden its usefulness beyond the network itself. Arista and white boxes have chipped away at the company’s switch franchise, for instance. Cisco insists this isn’t a problem, but even so, the company has spent the last several years establishing its name in areas beyond infrastructure. Along those lines, CEO John Chambers has repeatedly talked about establishing initiatives that tie Cisco closely to customers’ business processes, not just to their network spending.
Of course, Cisco’s new initiative will face competition in analytics and big data. Plenty of analytics competitors are out there, and new companies targeting analytics and/or network visibility are being funded — Arkin Net and ThousandEyes being recent examples.
Cisco’s analytics portfolio is available now. It’s not immediately apparently how much of it was already available or how much of the technology came from acquisitions.