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The Rise of the Void Toward the Periphery: Fog Computing and the IoT

Security has become a major concern, particularly in the IoT space. Here's a bit about cloud, security, IoT, and enterprise environments.

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"Science today founds itself on the principle of induction: most people have most often seen this phenomenon preceded or followed by that one, and conclude that that's the way it will be forever...But instead of declaring the law of falling bodies towards a centre why wouldn't one prefer that of the rise of the void towards the periphery, the void conceived of as unity of non-density, a hypothesis much less arbitrary than the one that opts for a concrete unity of positive density" — Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End

Minding Your Own Business in Cloud City

There is an apparent consensus mounting; one that suggests all businesses will soon locate at least some of their computing and/or data storage resources inside cloud computing architectures. As of now around 75 percent of enterprise-level business say that they either intend to pull the trigger on cloud migration or have already done so, in some capacity. The more devout cloud advocates go a bit further in their speculations and claim that one hundred percent of computing will eventually reside in the cloud.

Cloud offers a quick solution to storage and bandwidth limitations where the alternative is to build, equip, staff, and maintain new data centers, or expand existing ones. Cloud is a cost saver, at least in principle. And even though the magical-realism catch phrase ‘cloud computing’ amounts to nothing more that storing data on servers owned by someone else, that cost savings is a principle CIOs and CEOs will almost always agree on.

The business world, the tech world, and especially the business-tech world have been talking and speculating about the mass exodus to the cloud, the cost benefits, operational agility, and rapid deployment cloud enables, even in spite of security concerns in a climate of rising cyber crime rates. Businesses are well aware of the potential risks in today’s digital economy, and as a result security providers like Elastica, recently acquired by Blue Coat, are able to take advantage of the growing market. At this point, though, it seems pretty apparent that the stated benefits outweigh the fears.

As cloud migration expands, BYOD policies are adopted, and mobile devices become the prevailing workstations du jour, we’re beginning to see where the boundaries of the cloud begin to diffuse. Again, the limits of the cloud turn out to be another bandwidth issue, and not with user’s hardware this time. It’s the wireless networks.

Significant amounts of processing and storage now happen on end-users’ mobile devices. Mobile devices receive, generate, and transmit data constantly, and mobile apps have become the platform where many business tasks are performed. And it’s the 3G and 4G cellular networks that simply aren’t fast enough to transmit data from devices to the cloud at the pace that it’s being generated. It’s a problem that will only grow as the IoT expands and more of our everyday appliances become smart devices. Big Data and the mass migration to the cloud have taken internal bandwidth limitations and externalized them onto the cellular networks, and now the networks must play catch-up.

U.S. consumers like to assert that our cellular infrastructure is state-of-the-art. However, Christopher Mims at The Wall Street Journal pointed out in May of 2014, that the World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 35th for bandwidth per user. That might be a saturation/volume issue, i.e. a large populace with a high percentage of cellular data subscribers compared to other countries. How much data the average U.S. cell phone user produces is anybody’s guess, but it seems intuitive that Americans’ mobile media consumption habits would generate more than the global average. But that’s pure conjecture at this point. What’s known is that we simply produce more data than we can handle. And if data production continues to outpace storage capacity and processing power, then the realities of data-in-data-out cloud computing will continue to fall short of the ideals.

Surprisingly, it may turn out that the very devices, and the discrete networks of smart gadgets that we see threatening to max out cellular data bandwidth, the so-called Internet of Things, could provide the solution to their own problem. At least that’s what Mims thinks.

Same but Different: Clouds That Touch a Surface Get Renamed Fog

Fog computing is a term Mims says the marketing department at Cisco Systems came up with to help metaphorically visualize their vision. Fog networks will be comprised of the same basic elements, the fundamental difference being that the Fog sits fixed close to the ground rather than floating air currents on distance horizons. Cisco, according to Mims, is vying to turn the routers they sell to general consumers into smart routers that will act as localized hubs for “gathering data and making decisions about what to do with it.” According to Mims' WSJ report, “In Cisco’s vision, it’s smart routers will never talk to the cloud unless they have to … “

Mims also writes that IBM is also pushing toward hardware to equip eccentric networks, i.e. networks where storage and processing happen at the periphery, as opposed to a centralized data center. IBM envisions that the fog would consist of the computers that are already around us, tied together. On one level, asking our smart devices to, for example, send software updates to one another, rather than routing them through the cloud, could make the fog a direct rival to the cloud for some functions.” IBM also envisions that its fog nodes would address web proxy inadequacies that make IoT devices less secure.

Of course, the only thing novel about any of this is the idea of applying network architecture designed around the idea of eccentricity. Plenty of households own routers already. They just don’t store data or process data. Plenty of households also own gaming consoles like the PS4, which have incredible storage and processing capacity, but those require a wired internet connection or a WiFi router. Fog would combine the functionality of those two common devices into one and expand their connectivity to include any other type of household appliance that can be turned into a smart device while leaving the business of how the network is applied up to the owner.

Maybe the fog isn’t so eccentric after all.

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Topics:
internet of things ,fog computing ,cloud

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