Cisco bumps up smart building IoT as workers return post-Covid

Cisco has long been a trusted provider for networking in and around buildings and is taking another step in the smart building trend. The vendor seeks to help building managers and IT staff coordinate the return of workers to offices as the pandemic subsides in many countries.

Popular Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches will now integrate Cisco DNA Spaces with an onboard IoT Gateway for free to customers holding its DNA Advantage and Premier licenses, the company announced Tuesday.

The integration of Cisco DNA Spaces, a management dashboard, with Cisco’s IoT Gateway in the Cat 9000 and access points “opens the door to interconnecting hundreds of different types of endpoints,” said Jeremy Witikko, CTO and global director of smart buildings for Cisco.

Many devices are emerging post-Covid for workplaces, including LED lighting that can be modulated to an ultraviolet light frequency to help cleanse workspaces at night when workers are not present. A series of sensors would be able to detect if workers are indeed not present, then send a signal to automatically activate the cleaning process.

Other sensors could be used to monitor how many people are in a conference room to limit the participants and encourage social distancing, Cisco said. There are also facial recognition apps to monitor indoor mask wearing. Other apps have been developed to enable contact tracing.

Some of the IoT capabilities could pose privacy concerns, however. “Some of it is a little bit Big Brother-ish, but maybe we need that now with Covid,” said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research.

Kerravala said Cisco’s latest move is “especially prescient because the return to work is going to increase the need for IoT." In addition to cleaning robots, building managers will face the need to coordinate systems that enhance security or even automated window blinds that open on dark days.

The biggest systemic change with Cisco’s approach will move the management of IoT devices more squarely into wired and wireless networks that are run by information technology professionals instead of facilities personnel. “The change here is that these IoT systems will be managed by IT folks instead of OT,” the shorthand for operational technology, he said.

“There are now many more ways to connect network devices to things and that’s a real trend,” Kerravala said. “And safe work is going to be a catalyst for that.”

A new IoT gateway on Catalyst 9000 switches “makes it simpler for the line of business and IT teams to on-board IoT endpoints to the network,” said Anoop Vetteth, vice president of enterprise switching and software at Cisco. “This makes sure there is security for unsophisticated IoT devices.  The network is the foundation to connect endpoints to apps.”

Vetteth said Cisco is attempting to partner with multiple endpoint vendors, and has found them to be interested.

The new approach means that “nothing new is required” from Premium and DNA Advantage customers to activate the capability, he added.

Cisco has already been working with customers on smart buildings. Last fall, ASHRAE announced it was retrofitting a 43-year-old building into its headquarters with plenty of smarts for managing energy and workplaces.

Other smart building companies that Cisco named as partners include MHTLighting, Molex, Superior Essex, PlaceOS and Somfy.

Larsen & Toubro currently manages a business tower in Powai, Mumbai, in India, with 4,000 tenants. It runs on a Cat 9000 network that connects IoT devices, such as lights, shades, AV equipment and sensors that together provide data to cloud-hosted apps for intelligent insights into the health and operation of the building.