For Efficient, Decentralized IoT Computing, The Future May Be In The Fog

Photo courtesy of Robot B via Flickr

The cloud has some significant downsides when it comes to the Internet of Things – but fog computing could change all that.

By this point, we’re all aware of “the cloud”, that abstract entity that remotely stores and connects data in a network outside of localized servers. Information saved to the cloud is virtually preserved, floating in metaphorical limbo between any number of devices.

Cloud computing has become the new normal — and so far, it’s been immensely successful. But many believe that data is getting too heavy for the cloud alone to handle, especially as more and more objects join the Internet of Things.

Other cloudy complaints are its lack of mobility, streaming ability, and wireless access.

Due to these issues, combined with a stream of “things” in all shapes and sizes becoming connected to the web, a new solution for data processing has been born in concept: fog computing.

How would Fog differ from the Cloud?

The cloud consists of remotely harnessed servers. Fog computing, on the other hand, would utilize a localized connection of computers: like a cloud that’s close to the ground (as literal fog typically is).

Image courtesy of Jarrett Campbell via Flickr.

The fog is also referred to as “edge computing,” which means that rather than hosting from a centralized cloud, systems operate on network ends.

Processing and applications are concentrated on the ground devices themselves, which can communicate without routing through the cloud as a middleman.

According to a paper by fog frontrunner, Cisco, other traits specific to the fog are:

  • Real-time interactions (as opposed to batch processing)

  • Geographical distribution between widely dispersed parts

  • Large-scale sensors networks; many nodes that monitor the environment

  • Low latency, locationality, and context-awareness

What would the fog be used for?

Most of the buzz around fog has a direct correlation with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT). The fact that everything from cars to thermostats are gaining web intelligence means that direct user-end computing and communication may soon be more important than ever.

According to Cisco, the fog could become a key factor in:

Connected cars: As we’ve written previously, by 2017, all new cars will likely be required to connect with each other, and the Internet. Fog computing is ideal for Connected Vehicles (CV) because real-time interactions will make communications between cars, access points and traffic lights as safe and efficient as possible.

Smart grids: Similarly, as intelligent electrical grids become closer to implementation, the case for fog computing is a strong one — it could in theory allow fast, machine-to-machine (M2M) handshakes and human to machine interactions (HMI), which would work in cooperation with the cloud.

Smart cities: Fog computing could also be an efficient solution for smart cities, which would be able to obtain sensor data on all levels, and integrate all the mutually independent network entities within.

Health care: Already, the cloud computing market for healthcare is expected to reach $5.4 billion by 2017. Connectivity will better allow health care companies to integrate, aggregate, and consolidate patient data; fog computing would allow this on a more localized level.

Could fog replace the cloud?

In some ways, the fog could rival the cloud – for example, using fog computing to let devices talk to each other might eliminate the need for them to go through the cloud at all.

But as Cisco’s paper makes clear, both fog and cloud can and should cooperate on a larger level, as both have their advantages. Big data applications would likely require both the fog’s localization and the cloud’s globalization to operate smoothly.

One issue is this: fog computing is still a hypothetical. As good (and incredibly useful) as it sounds in concept, there is much to be done before it becomes functional reality.

Originally published on June 9, 2014. 

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Jennifer Markert