Cisco's Chambers talks up smart grid opportunity

Standards, security play to networking giant's core strengths.

Make no bones about it: Cisco is about to get a whole lot more aggressive with its business development activities surrounding smart grid infrastructure. Not only has the company made several very strategic hires in the past few months, the company's chairman and CEO, John Chambers, describes this opportunity as tailor-made for Cisco's strengths in standards and security.

"This opportunity could be as big as the original Internet," Chambers said, in response to a question asked during the company's confab with its business partners this week in San Francisco. In terms of numbers, we're talking a $20 billion market. Cisco sees a role as helping consolidate all the different standards and protocols cropping up around smart grid technology into a more manageable infrastructure consolidated onto IP.

The challenges associated with the smart grid are a key focus for Laura Ipsen, Cisco senior vice president and general manager for smart grid activities. She's on a tear, right now, hiring people from outside the world of pure high tech to help think through the challenges and opportunities. This week, for example, Cisco disclosed that is had hired the vice president of advanced technology from a seriously progressive utility company, Southern California Edison, to join the Cisco them. That exec, Paul De Martini, will become chief technology officer for the Cisco Smart Grid effort. Cisco has also hired a 25-year veteran with energy experience, Jeff Taft of Accenture, to become its Global Smart Grid Architect.

I spoke separately this week with two members of Cisco's emerging technologies team, who reiterated the magnitude of Cisco's potential role here. Chris White, vice president of emerging technologies at Cisco, said key features required by smart grid deployments will include network intelligence, ubiquity of coverage, management control and the ability to integrate renewable energy sources. All of these factors are being studied closely by Cisco's team, he said.

Several things you can expect:

  • Cisco will be building the broadest partner ecosystem possible, which means it will be as agnostic as possible as far as transport and devices that hook into the smart grid
  • It WILL participate in whatever standards and legislative efforts appropriate

And, this is just gut on my part, with Cisco's acquisitive nature and background, I wouldn't be surprised if it snaps up key start-ups in the smart grid space. i won't even speculate as to which companies those might be. But consider yourself on notice that smart grid is close in on John Chambers' radio screen.