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Cisco's industrial Internet of Things campaign hones in on railroads

Cisco's Connected Rail effort kicks off its strategy for an industrial Internet of Things, with a reference architecture for a network that can improve operations and passenger services for passenger and freight systems.

Cisco will target railroads with its first industrial Internet of Things initiative. The move could precede a major shift in the networking industry toward building networks for vertical markets that comprise switches, routers and other products designed to meet the specific requirements of individual industries.

Cisco's Connected Rail, the first of its  IoT Smart Solutions strategy, includes a technology partner ecosystem and a reference architecture that encompasses a broad swath of Cisco's products across its enterprise and service provider networking portfolios.

Connected Rail is aimed at modernizing both rail system operations and passenger connectivity and services. Connected Rail has four components:

  1. Connected Train. "There can be anywhere from two to six disparate networks [on a train] with disparate compute platforms and single-point communications running over those networks," said Barry Einsig, global transportation executive for Cisco's Connected Industries Group. "The first opportunity is to converge those networks together and then begin to aggregate additional devices and sensors on that network that had previously been unconnected."
  2. Connected Trackside. Cisco will help rail systems converge and consolidate legacy, proprietary networks that support trackside operations – like signaling, track switching and etc. -- and design networks for additional capabilities, including modern wireless infrastructure.
  3. Connected Station. Modern network infrastructure inside of rail stations will offer opportunities for new business models and operational improvements, Einsig said. Wi-Fi networks will give passengers access to new services. Digital signage can create revenue opportunities. IP video systems can improve security and overall operations. Rail operators will also be able to collect more data about how people move around the station to support overall efficiency and services.
  4. Positive Train Control. Many governments are imposing new requirements for monitoring and controlling trains centrally for better safety. With its Positive Train Control initiative, Cisco hopes to provide the infrastructure to make this possible, while working with customers and technology partners to implement the necessary applications on top of Cisco infrastructure.

"Our goal is to build an architectural solution that can support all [four] of these areas," Einsig said. "The most compelling applications driving this market right now are ticketing and fare collection systems, video surveillance (moving from analog systems to IP video), passenger Wi-Fi and loading signaling systems from disparate proprietary networks onto IP infrastructure."

Cisco's reference architecture for Connected Rail covers a broad array of its products. On the data center side, this includes its enterprise servers, switches and routers; on the remote connectivity side, this means its hardened routing and switching products. Other enterprise products adapted into the architecture include indoor and outdoor Wi-Fi, IP voice and Telepresence portfolios. It also includes service provider product lines such as optical and LTE infrastructure. In a lot of cases, rail operators will be building out their own wide area networks, Einsig said. In other instances, they may partner with service providers.

Much of the Connected Rail reference architecture is based on work Cisco has done with individual customers and partners, and some transportation organizations have already adopted portions of the architecture. Dallas Area Rapid Transit has deployed Cisco Video Surveillance Manager and 1700 Cisco IP cameras for more efficient security. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is incorporating a number of Cisco infrastructure products into its efforts to modernize operations.

Internet of Things offsets white box networking movement

Cisco's Connected Rail effort and its overall IoT strategy are the initial movements in a broader shift in the network infrastructure industry toward vertically targeted product lines, said Andre Kindness, senior analyst for Forrester Research. As Cisco and other networking vendors face pressure from white-box switching vendors in general enterprise environments, these vertical industry requirements will offer them a way to sustain premium product business models, he said. No white-box vendor is going to build switches that can withstand the vibration requirements of a freight train or passenger jet.

Various vertical industries, including rail systems, are developing very specific requirements for the modern industrial networks they want to build. While Cisco is initially slotting its existing product lines into an architecture for an industrial Internet of Things, Kindness expects the company to gradually design individual products to the specific requirements of rail operators and other industries. Its competitors will follow a similar path.

"I don't see one company serving all the vertical markets out there," he said, citing the success of a startup like Arista Networks, which emerged to serve the high-frequency trading market. Other networking vendors will target specific industries.

It isn't a question of producing a hardened switch or router that can fit into every challenging environment, Kindness said. "All of them have specific requirements for each industry," he said. An airline will want routers that can withstand certain vibrations associated with an engine and the temperature extremes of high altitude flight, while also being extremely lightweight. Meanwhile, a manufacturer or oil and gas company might want routers with similar, but not exactly the same, specification for temperature and vibration resistance. But, those customers won't want to pay the premium associated with the lightweight demands of an airline.

"Each of these industries will also have different types of legacy protocols they want to support [and new protocols] they want to use," Kindness said. "Manufacturing is using Ethernet and IP; retail is focusing on Bluetooth. So, there will be a transition point. Would you build a box to support all these legacy protocols from all these industries? That would be a mess."

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[Atul Sharma]. While each vertical will need different solutions, the network elements should be generic. Without generic network elements, IoT will not be sustainable with each vertical demanding a diferent slue of network elements. The generic network elements need to be adaptable for a specific vertical. For that to happen, the network elements need to support and execute 'open' APIs. By Open API's I mean on the lines of Sofware Defined Networks (SDN's). IoT shall need to rely on SDN to contain the complexity of different verticals.
SDN will certanly help network vendors serve the feature and funcionality demands of varoius verticals, but the not the physical requirements they have. An airline will have very different requirements for a router than an oil and gas field services company.
Oh, I thought this meant standard trains, like heavy rail. But if it's Muni, that's light rail. That makes more sense. I couldn't imagine why Cisco was focusing on an industry like heavy rail. I wouldn't call that "railroads."