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picture-118A day after IBM announced its new SAFE software package providing a standard infrastructure platform for utilities and Smart Grid startups, Cisco Systems has announced its own consortium of companies adopting common IP-based communications standards. In doing so, the company hopes to network Smart Grid stakeholders into a completely interoperable ecosystem for sending and receiving energy consumption data.

Cisco has recruited a number of impressive names for this consortium including major meter makers Itron and Landis+Gyr, software firms Accenture and Oracle, and wireless providers like Verizon. Utilities like Florida Power and Light, and Duke Energy sit on its advisory board. Cisco is currently trying to get Southern California Edison and PG&E on board too. On significant absence is Silver Spring Networks, a company that provides infrastructure for wireless transmission of energy data.

By joining this group, all of these players are essentially saying they want their technologies to be able to communicate seamlessly with each other at all levels. This is also the end goal of IBM’s software release yesterday with one major difference: IBM placed large emphasis on recruiting Smart Grid startups into its fold — companies like meter data-sharing network provider Trilliant and home energy management company Tendril. These companies are third parties assisting utilities in slicing and dicing the data they receive from smart meters in order to make it useful for both them and their customers. Cisco has taken a slightly different route, focusing on companies involved in collection and transmission of this data, not its interpretation.

What does any of this have to do with Cisco? Companies in its consortium will be adopting its IP-based communication infrastructure in order to remain interoperable with one another. It also gives Cisco a chance to show off what it does best: internet security. As companies all over the map work toward a cleaner, more efficient electrical grid — with data constantly being stored and sent via wireless networks — security has become a major issue. What is to prevent hackers from interfering with energy transmission — a very real and dangerous threat?

A major pillar of Cisco’s plan is to address these concerns, offering its consortium companies consistent solutions to beef up security along the whole energy supply chain. In order to do this, Cisco says it will be working closely with utilities to make sure they are complying with security measures, and continuously monitoring networks and physical equipment for vulnerabilities.

Cisco is one of several major companies looking to expand its involvement in the Smart Grid arena. IBM is of course the other heavy hitter with Intel looking to get in on the standards-development game, and both Microsoft and Google developing Smart Grid products, Hohm and PowerMeter, respectively, to help consumers keep track of their energy consumption and costs.

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