Cisco and Itron are joining forces to go after the smart grid together.

The companies announced a somewhat far-reaching agreement under which the two will work to develop IP-based communication standards for the smart grid. Itron will then bundle and resell Cisco's technology. In short, what you have is an alliance between a company (Cisco) with experience, heft, deep wallets and lots of technology in networking and communications and another (Itron) that has landed deals to sell smart meters to several major utilities worldwide. If all works well, Itron will be a gateway for Cisco into utilities and Cisco will help Itron accelerate its product roadmap.

Just as important, if the alliance works, the cost of implementing smart grids will decline because standards-based communications will replace some of the proprietary standards found in early smart meter deployments. Itron will shift over toward IP communications as this evolves.

The alliance will not likely be completely exclusive. The two, in fact, will promote the communication technologies as open standards and Cisco says it will seek other partners. Alliances in technology also wax and wane in importance, depending on how customers receive them. General Electric and other smart meter manufacturers, meanwhile, have alliances of their own.

Nonetheless, it could be imposing. Itron will embed Cisco's IP into its OpenWay meters and resell Cisco equipment. Cisco and Itron will also work to develop reference designs for equipment based around the communication technologies coined in this alliance.

In the future, a substantial portion of these alliances will likely focus on equipment and technology for improving communications between all of the different assets -- meters, substations, transformers, etc. -- in the field. The data coming from smart meters will likely soon become overwhelming. To manage this problem, utilities will likely begin to allow different field assets to process and store this information and communicate among themselves. SmartSynch, Motorola, IBM and others have all said field communications and processing will constitute a major market.

A press conference with vague statements of goodwill ("We will strive to make a positive impact...") is underway at the moment.