The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) has produced immense business growth opportunities, representing a significant transformation in the way our world interacts. Interconnected devices, environments and machines generate an exceptionally high volume of data; however, challenges arise when that sheer amount of data chokes an already stifled bandwidth. In a fast-paced world where every second counts, processing lags can result in serious business repercussions.
While cloud infrastructure offers centralized, and inexpensive, computing and data sharing, bandwidth issues continue to plague businesses as IoT technology expands. In February 2017, Amazon’s AWS cloud computing department suffered an agonizing four-hour outage that either drastically slowed or completely took offline thousands of websites that relied on AWS for hosting services. With a limited number of cloud computing providers in the marketplace, outages and speed limitations can spell disaster for organizations working almost exclusively in the cloud.
Enter fog computing—a new model for collecting and analyzing high-volume data driven by the IoT. By bringing the cloud closer to the devices that rely on IoT data, fog computing offers solutions to common issues such as latency, security, network reliability, performance and privacy which can be difficult to overcome by the cloud in its current state. Pushing IoT data closer to the network edge where it originated, instead of the centralized cloud, provides faster insights and smart, more integrated, infrastructures.
How Does Fog Computing Work?
Fog computing, or edge computing, is a decentralized networking infrastructure in which data, storage technology and digital applications are logically and efficiently distributed between edge devices and the cloud. Cloud capabilities are thus extended to the edge of the network, allowing devices that produce and act on IoT data to perform more efficiently. The metaphorical name “fog” derives from the idea of lowering the cloud to the ground-level.
A fog node, comparatively, is any device characterized by computing, storage and network connectivity—most often IoT applications. Cisco, credited with coining the term “fog computing,” defines a fog node as an edge device interconnected by a variety of communication technologies. Examples of these devices include routers, embedded servers, industrial controllers and video surveillance cameras.
Driving the Future Forward
Self-driving cars are largely responsible for the meteoric rise of fog computing. Autonomous driving (AD) vehicles require a sophisticated yet sturdy infrastructure, leaving no room for error. Precise operation during every millisecond of drive time is critical.
The amount of data generated by AD vehicles is staggering. Intel predicts that each autonomous vehicle will generate more than 4,000 GB of data per day. Compare this to the average internet user, who produces only 1.5 GB a day. This vast amount of data, along with the critical need for real-time service, can hamstring network resources.
The workload requirements necessary to keep self-driving cars on the road demand an advanced network architecture. Sensor data and imaging content for AD vehicles create massive amounts of data traffic that cloud networking alone cannot process quickly enough to enable safe service. Open fog computing, however, provides each AD vehicle with onboard fog nodes that respond to low-level control computers and remote servers in the cloud. The hierarchy of these fog nodes help determine which pertinent data travels where within the “fog,” allowing AD vehicles to cooperate safely with one another.
Integrating Business Operations into the Fog
It’s clear to see that fog computing plays an integral role in the IoT, but what about in other areas of business? With organizations of every size pushing towards digital transformation, unified networking technologies have become a must-have in a disruptive era. Fog computing takes once siloed hardware and software platforms and connects them through a platform that supports applications from multiple suppliers.
This conjunction of computing, networking and storage in the fog is poised to significantly reduce system complexity and cost, increase system and application manageability and simplify application interactions. Manufacturers, for example, could store sensitive data in private edge devices deployed close to factories instead of taking the risk with cloud-based data storage. This streamlined agility allows businesses to operate more efficiently as data is no longer transferred to the cloud and back, minimizing latency and conserving bandwidth. This process enables reliable operations between interconnected devices, reducing overall system costs.
The localized security benefits of fog computing also present an opportunity for businesses looking to protect infrastructure beyond IT security. According to the OpenFog Consortium, fog can monitor the security status of distributed systems in a scalable and trustworthy manner. This newfangled computing technology can detect advanced cyber-attacks that may have otherwise been missed in real-time without disruption of service. This particular function is critical for industries where interconnected systems and processes provide significant revenue generation.
Fog computing takes the future of a “smart world” and makes it tangible reality. Processing data closer to where it originates solves for the challenges of enormous data volume and velocity associated with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT). Enterprises that embrace fog computing to power sensitive technologies have the opportunity to gain faster insights, thus increasing business agility. While fog is not a complete replacement for cloud architecture, it is set to play a significant role in the growth of AI, 5G mobility and IoT as more industries and businesses adopt emerging technologies.