Fog computing: beware (well maybe just be aware) of the fog rolling in

I love how computing and weather forecasting seem to be converging. I mean, it makes sense. One of the first uses of supercomputers was weather forecasting, so it’s kind of a Zen circle of geek that computing terms would borrow liberally from weather forecasting’s lexicon. And that’s just what we have with the somewhat new thing making the rounds now… fog computing. I’m tempted to say it’s just a bunch of low altitude cloud computing, but that’s not really even close, so let’s dig a little deeper into something that might impact you, or your budget, in the coming year.

What is fog computing?

Fog computing, or “the fog” if you like “the cloud” as a term, is somewhat similar to cloud computing but more focused towards the Internet of Things, and more specifically, towards placing storage and interfaces close to those things. Consider IoT for a moment. Many components, or things, are smaller, lower powered computing devices that do a limited set of actions; they could be sensors, or controllers, or other devices that might generate a lot of data but have limited storage. Or they might take many actions, but have limited autonomy. Or they may be full-fledged computing devices, but lacking in resources or even grid-based power. All of these things need to connect to something to be truly useful, may generate significant amounts of data, require low latency, and depend upon low-power WiFi because they are both not wired, and battery powered. Enter the fog.

There is an industry group, called the OpenFog Consortium, that does a better job of formally defining fog computing. According to their website, the fog is a “system-level horizontal architecture that distributes resources and services of computing, storage, control, and networking anywhere along the continuum from Cloud to Things.” It is “an immersive, distributed computing infrastructure that extends the cloud to be closer to the things that produce and act on IoT data. It distributes the resources and services of computation, communication, control, and storage closer to devices and systems at or near the users. This approach to IoT system architecture enables latency sensitive computing to be performed in proximity to the sensors, resulting in more efficient network bandwidth and more functional and efficient IoT solutions. In general, fog computing benefits can include real-time control and analytics, local resource utilization, bandwidth cost savings back to the cloud, agile development and affordable scaling, and privacy-protected user objective support. It also offers greater business agility through deeper and faster insights, increased security and lower operating expenses.”

Consider it a move away from the large datacenters that make up the cloud and towards access and storage in your own edge network, so that you have very low latency, and in theory, higher security, all while providing responsiveness and local access to IoT devices and applications.

The higher-level architecture combines a centralized control plane with a data plane that lives on the edge. It uses an interconnected approach so clients can directly connect and interact with one another.

Why should you care?

iot-sensorFog computing will service a myriad of IoT devices, from sensors to controllers to mobile devices and the apps that users run. Your offices’ climate control and security access systems will likely connect, as will the sensors in your storage facilities and controllers on your manufacturing floor. Or perhaps the sensors that track inventory or customer interactions with your displays, or the medical devices that monitor your patients’ vital signs. Practically anything that falls into the realm of IoT will connect to the fog, so odds are good that any IT shop anywhere in the world, no matter how large or small, will be dealing with fog computing in some small way sooner or later.

As the Internet Standard Organization pushes ISO 20248 to provide a way for edge devices to identify themselves using RFID tags or bar codes, and companies like Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, and others join the OpenCloud Consortium, the fog may become a dominant force in the Internet of Things.

So keep a sharp weather eye peeled for some fog rolling into your network soon.

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