As the Internet of Things transforms into the “internet of everything,” companies are beginning to see some shortcomings in traditional cloud environments. Sending every piece of data to the cloud and back again creates a strain on the system. The solution for faster computing and connectivity may lie in fog computing.
Understand Fog and Edge Computing
If you compare computing names to their weather namesakes, you will understand fog computing at its most basic level. Think about weather patterns. Clouds exist up high in the sky. To get there, you need to climb or take an airplane flight. Data streams work the same way. The cloud is somewhere potentially far away, and data must travel to reach it, which takes time and resources. Fog, on the other hand, sits at the ground level. In computing, it gives devices a way to communicate quickly without traveling all the way to the cloud.
Fog computing sends, receives, and manipulates data in more localized environments—i.e., a device itself, a gateway, or a fog node. It can also send long-term storage data back to a cloud or hosted data center. With the option of processing data closer to the task at hand, fog computing frees up time and space in the cloud.
In practice, the technology could enable an in-store app to send personalized deals and specials to an interested consumer quickly. It could support smarter traffic lights, and free up bandwidth used during software updates.
While many in the industry use the terms fog and edge computing interchangeably, some subtle differences exist between the two technologies. In fog computing, the system still relies on aggregated data to take action. Edge computing, on the other hand, creates a network of independent decision-makers. Think about a home security system with multiple cameras. In a fog computing setup, possible video or sensor trigger data would move to a centralized area in the network before the system initiated a response measure—such as setting off the alarm. In an edge computing setup, each camera or sensor might process trigger data independently and send information to set off the alarm.
Glimpse the Potential in Fog Computing
More devices than ever before are gathering and transmitting data. Fog computing complements cloud computing in a way that supports data analysis without sacrificing device usability or reliability. Some of the benefits I see in fog computing include:
- Scalability. The cloud made data storage and computing activities more accessible and scalable than ever before. Fog computing may take those benefits a step further. Instead of relying only on the cloud, organizations can develop a set of rules for faster processing in a network of thousands of sensors or IoT devices. One IoT company, Plat One, manages over one million sensors in devices. It uses fog computing to provide real-time analytics and optimizations for IoT devices, including thousands of coffee machines and lights. Companies operating under current cloud storage constraints could use fog computing to optimize existing processes and support an increased number of internet-connected devices.
- Enhanced data storage. Companies that choose fog or edge computing solutions can exercise greater control over the type of data they store in the cloud. Instead of sending every individual piece of information to a single repository, fog nodes and edge devices can make critical decisions at the endpoint, and send only relevant and worthy information back to the cloud.
- Smoother internet connectivity. A large wind turbine company, Envision Energy, used fog computing to manage over 20 terabytes of data from over three million sensors effectively in real time. Using localized processing, the company can gain actionable information in mere seconds from all over the world. Regardless of a company’s application, fog computing decreases turnaround times and delivers a more-reliable internet connection at a local level.
- Major technology company support. Fog computing represents more than a niche field. Every company that processes IoT data on a regular basis stands to benefit from the technology. It even offers some applications on a personal level (think smart home connectivity). Major companies including IBM, Intel, Cisco, and Dell are already bringing computing and processing activities back to the edge or into the fog. One day, local municipalities and network operators could also offer an as-a-service solution for fog computing for a specific geographical region.
- Better security. One major cyber vulnerability lies in data transmission from IoT devices. Encryption helps, but one sensor breach could compromise an entire network that relies solely on the cloud. Cybersecurity in fog computing setups could limit the effect of a breach and/or prevent one from reaching sensitive data stored in the cloud.
Will it Take Off in 2017?
I think a shift to fog computing is a natural next step for a predominantly cloud-reliant society. With high-quality solutions already in the works and a consistent demand for better, more secure computing, we will see an uptick in the field of fog computing. I’ll go a step further—in the next five years, manufacturers will likely build fog-computing capabilities in new gateways, including routers and possibly in IoT devices themselves. Fog and/or edge computing will one day be a well-known phrase, just like the cloud.
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Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. From Big Data to IoT to Cloud Computing, Newman makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology projects, which leads to his ideas regularly being cited in CIO.Com, CIO Review and hundreds of other sites across the world. A 5x Best Selling Author including his most recent “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy,” Daniel is also a Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post Contributor. MBA and Graduate Adjunct Professor, Daniel Newman is a Chicago Native and his speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.