Both IBM and Cisco announced new lists of partners and products for their smart grid integration efforts this week, asserting themselves as standards-setters amidst a sea of startups and utilities under pressure to standardize – and secure – as fast as possible.

IBM's software platform, announced Wednesday, is meant to tie together its various enterprise products – Tivoli, WebSphere, Lotus, Information Management – in a smart grid-specific formation.

Utility users of the Solution Architecture for Energy and Utilities Framework, or SAFE, platform include Texas's CenterPoint and unnamed others. A host of vendors including Trilliant, BPL Global, Coulomb Technologies, eMeter, Itron, OSIsoft and PowerSense have been certified or are seeking certification for it, IBM said.

The SAFE platform builds on IBM's ongoing smart grid work with various utilities, said Drew Clark, director of strategy for IBM's Venture Capital Group (see IBM Snags Another Smart Grid Deal and IBM Brings Smart Meters to Malta).

"If they have to do this integration piecemeal, it's going to be a lot more expensive," he said. "There's a sense of efficiency, and a sense of quality control," in going with a centralized platform, he said.

As for Cisco, on Thursday it announced two new partnership groups – a "Smart Grid Ecosystem" including such vendors as General Electric, SAIC, Arcadian Networks, Infosys, CapGemini, Oracle, Itron, Landis+Gyr, Siemens, Schneider Electric and Verizon (see Cisco Wants to be Everywhere in Smart Grid).

Cisco has a technical advisory board of utilities that include previously announced Duke partners such as Duke Energy and Yellostrom (see Duke Energy Enlists Cisco in Smart Grid Efforts).

Cisco also fleshed out its plans for providing smart grid security, and said that it has joined the ZigBee Alliance, a group of companies using a wireless protocol that's emerging as a market leader for smart grid deployments in North America.

"The key mission," said Inbar Lasser-Raab, senior director, network systems at Cisco, "is working with those partners to adopt IP as a basis for communications." That has been Cisco's primary pitch for why utilities should use its product and services.

What remains to be seen is how many utilities buy in to both of the giants' visions of how the smart grid should be organized.

Utilities are under pressure to link up in a coherent fashion the smart meters, distribution automation devices, communications networks and meter data management, customer service and grid control software.

They're also facing the impending standardization of what has been a fragmented mix of technologies for controlling the electricity grid, as well as looming security requirements. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is developing a set of standards for the smart grid and has named cybersecurity as one of its top concerns (see Defense Contractors Pursue the Smart Grid and DOE Issues Rules for $3.9B in Smart Grid Stimulus Grants).

As Eric Miller, chief solutions officer for smart meter networking startup and IBM partner Trilliant, put it, "standards compliance is a significant piece of the compliance testing... it's not just internally consistent, it's also trying to validate that it will incorporate with a broad range of capabilities."

IBM and Cisco aren't necessarily in competition with each other when it comes to smart grid (see Green Light post). In simple terms, IBM wants to provide smart grid software, as do companies like SAP and Oracle, while Cisco wants to provide its hardware and networking expertise.

Partnerships appear to be the name of the game for all the players in the smart grid (see Green Light post). Given that pending standards will force the issue anyway, it's no doubt wise to land as many as possible.

Interact with smart grid industry visionaries from North American utilities, innovative hardware and software vendors and leading industry consortiums at The Networked Grid on November 4 in San Francisco.