TotalCIO

May 30 2014   9:59PM GMT

Fog computing: paradigm shift or same old, same old?

Kristen Lee Kristen Lee Profile: Kristen Lee

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It might be time for CIOs to get their heads out of the cloud. Or almost time? Many experts seem to think that in the future, computing and storage of data will happen closer to the ground in the “fog” — by necessity. Objects and things that never had a technological component soon will. By 2020, it is estimated there will be 50 billion “smart” things equipped to automatically transfer data over a network.

Fog computing, a term coined by Cisco and also known as edge computing, rests on the notion that it’s impractical to send all that data from this Internet of Things (IoT) up to the cloud to be stored and analyzed. So why not provide the ability to compute, store and analyze data from these devices at the network’s edge?

Gartner analyst Andre Kindness uses home sensors as an example. Rather than transmitting all the data collected by these sensors to the cloud, find a way to store and analyze some of the information locally.  “So what you’re doing is taking some aspects of the cloud, that computation of storage, and putting it right next to those sensors, right in your car, right in your house.”

Given plans by Google, Samsung, Apple, you name it, to get into the home automation business and the plethora of other devices — think jet engines — that already do or may soon collect data, the idea of edge computing certainly makes sense. It’s the semantics that seem to rile people up.

Asked to explain what fog computing is, Forrester Research’s James Staten, a prominent cloud analyst, basically scoffed. ” It’s a mktg [sic] term from Cisco, who is nowhere in the cloud era and thus needs desperately to either distinguish themselves within it, or move the ball to some place new where they think they can be a leader,” Staten said in an email. “What they want to call Fog we already call Mobile and IoT. I wouldn’t buy into the hype.”

The challenge didn’t fluster Cisco’s Todd Baker, head of IOx product management, Internet of Things business unit.

“How is fog different from Internet of Things? I would answer that it’s not,” Baker said. “IoT and fog are related, but fog is more an architectural statement within IoT and as a complement to what happens in the cloud, not an alternative.”

In this architecture, smart devices are at the ground level, fog computing in the middle, and cloud computing on top. The local computing may, for example, determine that some data should be transmitted to the cloud for more analysis, but in this scenario not all data will need to go back and forth to the cloud for processing. Nor could it possibly, in the IoT world to come, according to Gartner’s Kindness.

“If people say we have [IoT] today, they’re crazy,” Kindness said. He pointed out that what we have now is on laptops and on mobile phones but that’s only the beginning. Soon cars, homes, manufacturing plants and more will be part of the IoT. Baker concurred.

“You think about consumer technologies, wearables, it’s really small end points sending almost no data up to a cloud service. Fine, right?” Baker said. “But when you start looking beyond the consumer, the fog really becomes a necessity.”

Airplanes, for example, produce 10 terabytes of data every 30 minutes, Kindness pointed out. In the past, this data was kept on the plane and wasn’t shared while in flight. But being able to share data from airplanes is an important advance, as the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 shows. And this advance is nearly impossible with cloud as the only option, according to Kindness. “You cannot move that data over a satellite connection back to a home base. What’s going on with the engines and readjusting things on the engine and stuff like that has to happen on the plane itself.”

Baker believes it is none too soon for CIOs to start grappling with the IoT. Fog could help “the CIOs actually [solve] this torrent of data problem that they have and that may be preventing them from actually going after innovation with data at the edge,” Baker said.

Let the fog (computing) roll in. We at SearchCIO plan to investigate.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Kristen Lee, features writer, or find her on Twitter @Kristen_Lee_34

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  • Jonathan Brown
    I love how the Forrester Analyst simply said that this was a bunch of 'marketing hooey'.  I'm going to go with that explanation going forward.  Fun read.
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