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IoT: Out Of The Cloud & Into The Fog

Cloud computing architectures won't be able to handle the communication demands of the Internet of Things. The future is in fog computing.

By now, most IT organizations have embraced the concept of cloud computing and are using it in some capacity. But if grand predictions regarding the Internet of Things (IoT) turn out to be true, even the most advanced, distributed cloud architectures aren't going to be able to handle the IoT's data and communications needs.

That's where the idea of "fog computing" comes into play. It's a term coined by Cisco, but most major IT vendors are developing architectures that describe how the IoT will work by bringing the cloud closer to the end user -- similar to how fog is nothing more than a cloud that surrounds us on the ground.

The problem that IoT forward thinkers see with the current cloud architecture is that it's heavily reliant on distributed processing and available bandwidth from the edge device to the backend server. Most data in a cloud environment is sent to the cloud to be processed, leaving our edge devices as dumb portals into the cloud.

Though this architecture works well today, it falls apart when we're talking about adding billions of devices and microdata transactions that are incredibly latency sensitive. Instead of forcing all processing to backend clouds and forcing all IoT device intercommunication through a cloud intermediary, fog computing proposes that devices have the opportunity to talk directly to one another when possible and handle much of their own computational tasks.

This evolutionary shift from the cloud to the fog makes complete sense to me. The original cloud boom began when mobile devices like smartphones and tablets were becoming all the rage. Back then, these devices were weak on computing power, and mobile networks were both slow and unreliable. Therefore, it made complete sense to use a hub-and-spoke cloud architecture for all communications.

But now that most of us are blanketed in reliable 4G technologies, and mobile devices now rival many PCs in terms of computational power, it makes sense to move from a hub-and-spoke model to one that resembles a mesh or edge computing data architecture. Doing so eliminates bandwidth bottlenecks and latency issues that will undoubtedly cripple the IoT movement in the long run.

So if you thought that cloud computing was the pinnacle of infrastructure designs for the foreseeable future, think again. If we're talking billions of devices and instant communication, current cloud models won't be able to handle the load. Fortunately, advances in mobile processing power and wireless bandwidth have allowed many to design a far more capable architecture that brings us out of the clouds and into the fog.

Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio
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Susan Fogarty
Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
8/19/2014 | 12:17:47 PM
Re: Flexibility
On one level this makes perfect sense, and I have seen Cisco demo the technology and it seems reasonable. But when it comes to the details of securing and managing the data that's actually produced in the fog, I am not so confident we can accomplish that yet. After all, we haven't really mastered cloud computing yet, even though the vendors act like that's a done deal. Fog sounds like a good idea, but I suspect it will be a lot more complex to actually make it work.
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2014 | 8:44:36 AM
Fog computing enables the flexibility that some types of applications, devices and services require to either/both, be economical or possible. Out of the 50 billion devices that are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, some just require the internet (connectivity), others require the Cloud and some absolutely require the Fog.
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