Machine-to-machine (M2M) applications are maturing beyond the gimmicky consumer use cases of refrigerators that automatically order more milk and eggs from the grocery store. Only select vertical industries will adopt enterprise M2M applications initially, but Cisco Systems has built a new Integrated Services Router (ISR) in anticipation of the long-term growth it projects for enterprise M2M communications.
The ISR 819 M2M Gateway, which is available now, is a compact version of its second-generation ISR (ISR G2) cousins. Weighing 2.3 pounds, the router comes in both a rugged and non-rugged version. Cisco says the rugged ISR 819 is capable of withstanding extreme temperatures and physical abuse, and is designed to connect nontraditional devices—ATMs, vending machines, traffic signals, patient monitoring systems—to the wide area network (WAN).
"There's nothing inherently revolutionary about this, but what they've done is taken the robust features of the ISR family and ported it to a smaller form factor than had previously been available," said Mike Spanbauer, principal analyst at Current Analysis.
For WAN pros planning to deploy M2M applications today, the ISR 819 will be a welcome alternative to what's been their only other option until now: Highly customized hardware and software bundles from service providers and M2M system integrators, Spanbauer said.
"To [deploy any] M2M solution today, most customers [otherwise] have to employ solely proprietary and custom components from specific providers or use multiple elements [from several vendors] ... which probably have weak or nonexistent security and are consuming a fair amount of floor space," he said.
ISR 819 tailored for M2M applications
The new router is designed to function inside ATM machines, on top of traffic lights and in delivery trucks, according to Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior marketing director at Cisco.
"One of the biggest challenges in enabling [M2M] connectivity is the footprint. What we're talking about is a router that needs to fit in another machine," she said.
The 819 measures 1.67" long, 7.7" wide and 7.2" high, making it slimmer than an iPad2, Lasser-Raab said. The rugged version can withstand temperatures as low as 13 degrees Fahrenheit (-25 degrees Celsius) and as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), and it is engineered to stay online in harsh environments.
"You could spill water all over it ... drop it from 50 feet in the air and put it in a heat wave ... and it'll still function," Lasser-Raab said.
Cisco has preloaded on the ISR 819 many services that are standard on other ISR models, but the ISR 819 also includes other services that are usually added via line cards with other models—including stateful and application inspection firewalls, intrusion prevention system (IPS), content filtering, encryption for site-to-site and remote access VPNs, Quality of Service (QoS) and Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) WAN optimization. Customers can manage the ISR 819 through Cisco Prime, the company's set of network management products.
The router ships with four 10/100 Mbps local area network (LAN) switch ports, a 1 Gbps WAN port and an auxiliary port for monitors or other devices. It supports wireless connectivity via 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless LAN and a broad range of 3G technologies. Although many M2M applications use a relatively small amount of bandwidth, support for 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) will soon be available via a software upgrade, Lasser-Raab said.
The router also has some unique characteristics and functions targeted at optimizing M2M applications, she said. It has a second antenna for Global Positioning System (GPS) connectivity, which enables WAN pros to support location-based services, Lasser-Raab said.
"An ATM machine will signal and send an [alert] by itself to the control center that the cash level has reached a certain threshold. Then that can trigger [an alert to the driver of] the nearest vehicle to drive over to that ATM machine to fill it up," based on the GPS data, she said.
The 819 has a Short Message Service (SMS) gateway, as many M2M applications rely on text messaging, Lasser-Raab said. It also supports two SIM cards so that WAN pros can use two different wireless carriers for redundancy. However, Cisco has separate ISR 819 models for CDMA carriers and GSM/UMTS carriers, limiting WAN pros' choice of which service providers to use for redundancy.
Cisco isn’t going to sell a boatload of routers tomorrow, but clearly they see where the industry is going.
Due to its size, the 819 is missing some features that are standard in other ISR models. Other ISRs can run higher-performance versions of WAAS than what comes preloaded on the 819, Lasser-Raab said. Additionally, the new router cannot host virtual machines via Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS) module, as is standard on other ISR models.
The 3G and GPS antennae can be extended with a cable, which is useful for WAN pros who deploy the router inside another machine, Lasser-Raab said. The list price starts at $2,300; list price for the non-rugged model starts at $1,600.
M2M applications niche for now
Machine-to-machine traffic will more than double every year for the next four years, reaching 295 petabytes per month by 2015 and making M2M apps the fastest-growing type of mobile application, according to Cisco's 2011 Visual Networking Index.
Enterprise adoption of M2M applications will be limited to a handful of industries and use cases in which there are more machines that need to be monitored or replenished than there are employees to babysit them, according to Rohit Mehra, director of enterprise communications infrastructure research at IDC.
"Banks cannot have a human being at every ATM machine to monitor when one needs to be refilled ... and with medical devices, many of which are remotely monitored and operated, you cannot have a one-to-one ratio of medical experts to patients with infusion pumps," Mehra said. "Cisco isn’t going to sell a boatload of routers tomorrow, but clearly they see where the industry is going."
Most WAN pros won’t have to become M2M experts overnight, Mehra said. That may change in three to five years, but managing M2M connections won't be too different from managing a wireless WAN branch office connection, he said.
"It's not going to be rocket science for the typical [network] engineer," Mehra said. "The big [change] is the service provider will play an intricate role in the overall network management ecosystem because there will be more reliance on these [wireless WAN] technologies that are under the purview of the service provider directly. I think enterprise network managers will start to see the boundaries get grayer between themselves and the service providers."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, Senior News Writer.