The Information of Things

The Important

  • The information of things is one of the most important issues in networking over the next decade.
  • There are at least two types of information that are critically important and monetizable (directly and/or indirectly). Information about the network itself, and the information flowing over the network.

Discussion

We like to think of information as the fourth fundamental resource of information technology (IT). The reason some argue that information is distinct from storage, networking, and compute, is because information can move between these resource types, unchanged. Regardless of whether you buy into that, most people understand information is important and has value.

As information resolves uncertainty (information theory), information is arguably the most valuable aspect of IT. What has more monetary value, the ability to connect two nodes on the Internet at gigabit speeds, information about how that connection is being used, or the information flowing over the connection? In the mid 1990’s the answer might have been the then hard problem, connectivity. In the future?

Over the last decade, many people have had the intuition that the most valuable thing in networks might be information. How to monetize that information has been the question. When we explore this intuition, there are two types of information that come to mind. One is the information about the network itself, and the other is the information generated by the Internet of things (IoT).

Information about the network

On the former, the uptick in development and acquisition driven by machine learning and analytics suggests the industry is trying to work out how to monetize this type of information. Examples include Juniper’s acquisition of Appformix, Cisco’s Cat9K strategy to connect their chips with a larger analytics play, and the recent stories about Huawei’s AI chips / self-driving aspirations. Arista’s acquisition of Mojo networks could perhaps be put in this bucket, as could Arista’s sysdb/netdb capabilities.

Information flowing over the network

In terms of the information from IoT devices, there is both considerable optimism and skepticism. We have already seen smartphones be the onramp to information exchanges provided by Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and other services. Some would say smartphones are the most successful IoT devices to date. More conventionally framed IoT successes are claimed in smart cities, waste management, energy conservation, transportation, public safety, environment, energy, agriculture, and healthcare. Whatever the reality of IoT is today, one thing that is undeniable, is the incomprehensible amount of information in the universe. It just takes some smart people to figure out how to monetize it, and perhaps some breakthrough technologies to drive price/performance. I’m not counting out human innovation in either of those dimensions.

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