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Posts Tagged ‘Fog computing’

fog computingLet’s start with a basic premise: as Christopher Mims of the Wall Street Journal put it in a May 19th article, “Getting data into and out of the cloud is harder than most engineers often are willing to admit.”

The problem is bandwidth.

Granted, if you want to do save the cost and trouble of storing data, the cloud works well when all you want to do is transfer data via high speed wiring.  Although frankly, even that can be problematical for the many businesses who still have less than perfect Internet bandwidth.

But in a world where mass connectivity requires true bandwidth that includes a wide array of mobile devices, users and providers alike struggle with the limitation of wireless networks.  According to the World Economic Forum, Mims points out, the U.S. ranks only 35th in bandwidth per user.

This has given birth to mobile apps becoming a predominant way to do things on the Internet, especially with smartphones.  Some of the data and processing power is actually being handled on your device – not in the “pipes” (or in this case, air waves) that lead to it.

And the issue of “getting things done” is becoming more problematical as the Internet becomes the Internet of Things, where “smart” devices can sense their environment and even receive commands remotely.  We’ll see this before long (already can, actually) in everything from drones to your refrigerator.

The problem is, modern 3G and 4G networks are not up to the task – they’re simply not fast enough – to transmit data from devices to the cloud at the pace it’s generated.  As an example, Mims cites Boeing, where “nearly every part of the plane is connected to the Internet” often sending continuous streams of status data to the cloud.  One jet engine alone is said to generate half a terabyte of data per flight.

Luckily, there’s a solution: Stop focusing on the cloud and start storing and processing these torrents of data on the devices themselves, or on devices that sit between our things and the Internet.  Someone at Cisco Systems has coined a name for this: “fog computing.”

Whereas the cloud is up in the sky, the fog is close to the ground, that is, where things are getting done.  It consists of weaker and dispersed little computers that are making their way into cars, appliances, factories and most any other new-tech object you can conjure.  In fact, Cisco plans to turn its routers into “hubs for gathering data and making decisions about what to do with it.”  These smart routers will never talk to the cloud unless they have to, say in a rail emergency or other critical application.

While the cloud consists of physical servers in nearly uncountable numbers today, the fog consists of all the computers that are already all around us, tied together.  So our mobile devices might send updates to each other, instead of routing them through the cloud.  In fact, the fog could eventually compete with the cloud for some functions.

If all this is putting you into a fog, fear not.  While much of computing’s future lies in the cloud, Mims thinks the truly transformative computing will take place right here, in the objects surround us – in the fog.

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