CHICAGO -- The idea of managing and provisioning services closer to the network edge is catching on in the vast Internet of Things world as well.
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) calls this phenomenon "fog computing," and it's a complement -- not a replacement -- to cloud computing, executives explained at an event in Chicago Tuesday. Todd Baker, head of Cisco's IOx framework, described fog as highly distributed computing that takes place close to the network edge where the data is really occurring rather than routing it back to a central office. He said it's necessary alongside cloud computing because sensors today are generating upwards of two exabytes of data.
"It's too much data to legitimately send to the cloud," Baker said, adding that it would cost too much too. "Fog is about distributing enough intelligence out at the edge to calm the torrent of data, and change it from raw data over to real information that has value and gets forwarded up to the cloud."
Chris White, Cisco's SVP of global IoT/IoE sales, said the big drivers for fog were the oil, gas, and mining industries where massive computer power was needed to communicate between, say, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico to the central office. There are some critical applications that required operating in the cloud remotely, but for many, computing closer to the source made sense.
"The intelligence of the network has become an important commodity," White told Light Reading. "There's a whole bunch of business reasons where knowing who and where you are on the network becomes incredibly powerful."
Or, for a more mission-critical example, Paul Glynn, CEO of Cisco value-added reseller Davra, suggested that a train may get a routine message when that they can respond to in the cloud, but if that message is that another train is about to cross their path, they need to respond immediately by reacting locally. This is something fog enables. "90% accurate is fine the majority of the time, but when a train is on the way, it's not," Glynn quipped via telepresence all the way from Dublin.
Cisco's IoT portfolio includes its normal suite of switching, routing, and field networking equipment, consulting services, security -- both physical and IT in nature, and, increasingly, application enablement. Kip Compton, VP of engineering and GM of the IoT business group at Cisco says that this is also enabled through IOx, Cisco's framework for fog computing. (See Cisco to Open 3 More IoT Innovation Labs.)
"With all these sensors and data, you need the ability to process that at the edge," Compton said. "You can't bring it all back to the data center, so management capabilities are critical."
The concept certainly makes sense, although considering cloud computing is still a nebulous term, fog computing might make things even more hazy (if you'll excuse the obvious puns). Cisco had a number of partners on hand, including SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP), to talk up the concept, and Cisco's role in it. Perhaps more than anything, fog is another way to keep the traditionally hardware vendor relevant in an increasingly software-driven network. (See Chambers Caught in 90s Deja Vu.)
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading