Cisco Buys Pure for a Smarter Home Network

Today Cisco Systems said it plans to spend $120 million to buy Seattle-based Pure Networks, a company that makes software to manage home networks. Pure’s network management software and underlying protocols, which make a connected device visible to a network, are becoming more important now that devices beyond computers and their peripherals are networked in the home.

Cisco has already tried to address this trend by using Pure’s technology in its Linksys Easy Link Advisor program, which was introduced on Linksys routers in April and is aimed at making it easier to manage multiple PCs and equipment. Today’s acquisition was driven, in part, by vendor and consumer satisfaction with those routers. It’s also because Cisco is trying to drive its vision of an intelligent network as the hub of the connected digital home. Pure’s software and HNAP protocol, which works with any IP network, from Wi-Fi to Ethernet, will underlie that intelligent network.

In contrast with Intel, which views the home network as a group of devices centered around a PC, Cisco’s Chris Dobrec, director of worldwide strategy for Linksys, says networked devices can and should have the level of intelligence built into them to recognize and talk to one another without using the PC as an intermediary. That’s a common enough vision, one that would allow you to take a photo with a digital camera and easily send it to your friend’s camera without ever using a PC. The days of standing there for 8 minutes at a family reunion while 10 people pass along their cameras to snag a shot would be over.

The problem with that scenario is that intelligence in devices doesn’t come cheap. In addition to a networking chip, certain protocols require a lot of CPU power or memory in order to identify and disclose themselves to a network. Dobrec says the HNAP protocol is light enough that it doesn’t need additional chips and could easily be embedded on existing hardware. Cisco plans to push the HNAP protocol as a standard and get device makers on board.

Eliminating the PC as a middleman won’t be easy with Intel pushing its own consumer networking technology, Cliffside, which uses Wi-Fi to connect devices and is scheduled to be introduced next year. The capability is already built into Intel’s Centrino chips, and will be activated with a software update in about eight months. Both HNPA and Intel’s Cliffside project will network Internet-connected devices as well as those that aren’t connected to the Internet.