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Cisco launches router , switch for smart grids

The networking giant plans to release two pieces of equipment–a router and a network switch–aimed at helping utilities create better communication systems designed not only to help automate electrical substations, but someday connect “smart meters” in homes and variable sources of power like solar and wind. “The idea is that data can be interpreted and used to make the flow of electrons more productive, to make everything more efficient around the grid,” says Paul De Martini, Cisco‘s ( CSCO – news – people ) newly appointed chief technology officer for Smart Grid.

Indeed, Cisco chief executive John Chambers has said the smart grid promises to be even larger than the Internet, driving the need for the larger address space of IPv6.

“It’s going to be critical for Cisco to forge partnerships with smart grid solution providers–the Accenture’s and ABB’s of the world–who specialize in the utility industry and can engage the utilities at a business and strategic level, not just the IT and operational level,” said Doug Washburn, an analyst, infrastructure and operations, Forrester Research. “I did not hear much from Cisco on this topic, and it’s an important one since these players help utilities determine their smart gird strategy which ultimately drives technology and vendor decisions,” Washburn said.

The Cisco Grid Router 2010 also includes upgraded protocols to identify and prioritize messages from so-called SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) and Goose control networks. The router is based on Cisco’s ISR G2 model 2905 commercial router announced in March.

The Cisco Grid Switch 2520 is based on the company’s Catalyst series switches. It adds RS-232 serial interfaces to link to utility substation control systems.

The new router starts at a list price of $7,800, the switch lists for prices starting at $5,300. The announcements were timed for the opening of the Connectivity Week conference on smart grids.

The routers and switches, which Cisco calls ruggedized, are designed to integrate Internet Protocol communications with grid monitoring.

Cisco executives have spoken publicly about just how big an opportunity the company sees in the smart grid: Marie Hattar, a Cisco vice president, told CNETin May of 2009 that the smart grid could be a hundred to a thousand times the size of the Internet, and represent a $20 billion market over the next five years. President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package included $4.5 billion aimed at smart grid technologies, and required any recipients to match that spending, adding another $9 billion to the mix.

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