Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Unlock the potential of Application Hosting on Catalyst Access Points – A use case overview

Application Hosting Overview

With the 17.3.1 IOS XE release, Cisco introduced the Application Hosting on Access Point feature. In conjunction with Cisco DNA Center support starting from version 2.1.1, Application hosting on Cisco Catalyst 9100 series Access Points enables developers to create and host applications using Docker style container apps. The Cisco Catalyst series Access Points, through their modular capability and IOx framework, facilitate flexibility for third party software and hardware integration.

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Application Hosting Topology

Let’s look into on how this feature solves common use cases and brings value to the customer.

Solution Components


The key components of the solution are the Cisco DNA Center, Catalyst 9800 Series WLC and the Catalyst 9100 Series Access Points. Each component plays a specific role as described below:

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Use Cases


Application Hosting on Access Points enables you to develop your own IoT applications while leveraging the IoT capability offered by the Cisco Catalyst Series Access Points. Take a look at some of the common IoT use cases which can leverage Application Hosting:

◉ Retail Store using Electronic Shelf Labels (ESL) for dynamic price automation

◉ Asset monitoring and tracking in healthcare and manufacturing verticals

◉ Smart office monitoring for desk and room occupancy, temperature, humidity and air quality monitoring, window and door monitoring

◉ Building management system (BMS) automation to connect and manage door locks, smart thermostats, lights, and other IoT devices

The above use cases are just a microcosm of the different verticals where Application Hosting comes into play.

Retail Store IoT Use Case

For the purpose of this article, we will focus on one of the most common use cases utilizing the Application Hosting feature on Access Points: Retail Store IOT using Electronic Shelf Labeling (ESL)

What is Electronic Shelf Labeling?

An Electronic Shelf Label is a device that shows a product’s data and price information on its display. Unlike printed labels, the information gets automatically updated if certain criteria like price or product data changes. Besides the increased flexibility in price design, ESL helps simplify processes for store personnel and eliminates need for manual price changes.

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This Retail Store IOT ESL retail use case gets addressed via our full stack Application Hosting on Access Points solution, as shown below.

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What is an ESL IoT Application?

◉ Cisco partner developed 3rd party IOx application hosted on the Access Point that communicates with ESL tags through an ESL capable USB connector device.

How do we accomplish the ESL solution?

◉ ESL tags deployed throughout the store communicates with compatible ESL IoT applications deployed on the Cisco Access Points. The Cisco DNA Center manages the deployed ESL application on the Cisco Access Point and provides an organized end-to-end solution.

◉ The ESL tags are managed by a partner developed ESL management system (On Prem or Cloud). As an example, one of our partners, SES-Imagotag manages its ESL tags either via their On Prem server or a Cloud based solution.

Next, let’s look at an overview of how an IOx application targeting the Retail IoT ESL use case gets deployed on the Access Point. For the sake of simplicity, we assume here that customer already has the Cisco DNA Center Appliance available and the Access Points are already discovered in the Cisco DNA Center. We work with the partner to help them develop their custom ESL IOx app. Typically this is done via the detailed instructions available at Cisco DevNet.

Solution Overview – How does it work?

The following figure highlights the Application Hosting workflow on the Cisco DNA Center which has this solution enabled starting release 2.1.1.

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Cisco users can avail of the detailed steps in the following deployment guide to install and deploy a 3rd party IOx app that will be hosted on the Cisco Access Points. Once deployed on the Cisco DNA Center, the application can be managed via the following options highlighted below:

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Additional Use Cases

Another common use case that leverages the Application Hosting capabilities is the Building Management System (BMS). BMS can be used to connect and manage critical building infrastructure such as door locks, smart thermostats, lights, sensors and other IoT devices.

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Using the Application Hosting framework, Cisco’s partners can create custom applications catered for their BMS use cases. The custom device management software residing inside the application container on Catalyst Access Points communicates with the building management devices and allows facilities to be managed by a BMS application server. The process is inherently automatable, thus providing operational cost savings.

Refer below a sample topology of the BMS IoT use case. This use case is enabled with a custom USB dongle attached to the Access Point to communicate with the building management devices and managed by an external BMS IoT Management system.

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We can clearly see from the above examples that Application Hosting on Catalyst Access Point can enable different use cases and bring tremendous value to our customers.

Customer Feedback


Application Hosting on Access Point feature has been warmly received by Cisco’s partner ecosystem. Cisco initially partnered with SES-Imagotag and conducted an Early Field Trial with REWE International. REWE International is rolling out a containerized version of the SES-Imagotag ESL solution using the application hosting feature. The containerized application will enable REWE International to eliminate the need for an IoT overlay network, simplifying their deployments, streamlining management, and saving them time and money. The EFT was a resounding success as evinced by the glowing feedback from Hans Vasters, Senior Network Architect, REWE International:

◉ “App hosting capabilities on the Cisco access points reduces deployment times by nearly 90 percent by eliminating the need to install additional hardware and bring in IT folks and electricians to set it all up.”

◉ “With App Hosting, we run everything through one system, and Cisco DNA Center enables us to push out the application, make changes and updates, and manage the application across all our stores seamlessly. Our technicians don’t have to invest time onsite to maintain a separate infrastructure. It can all be done remotely.”

◉ “Installation is very easy, it’s just a few clicks. Cisco DNA Center also lets me see when the app is up and running, gives me the status of all access points, lets me know if the application was distributed successfully, and if the container is up and running. That’s a huge advantage because if I think about the effort to distribute software to the stores, Application Hosting makes it quite easy.”

Application Hosting on the Cisco Catalyst 9100 Access Points enables Cisco to extend capabilities of the platform and provide convergence of Wi-Fi and IoT on a single network. Multiple partners have signed up and are on their way to developing their own custom IOx Apps. We are only getting started with the Application Hosting on the Access Point journey!

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