December 1, 2016
Can we talk about fog computing?
by Phil Hummel, Data Scientist, Dell EMC
Can we talk about fog computing?
It turns out that we can, but it may be a little “foggy” for some. Take for instance the recent Ask Me Anything that the OpenFog Consortium held on reddit.com. Many of the questions that were asked by the Reddit community were trying to relate fog concepts and fog computing to related things that are more familiar like edge computing and cloud computing. Fog is a relatively new area of research, development and discussion. I spend a lot of time explaining fog computing to people that are wondering why I’m so excited about connected devices. I’ve been following the development of fog-centric applications for precision agriculture. Just this one application domain has so much potential that it leads me to believe we are on the frontier of creating something meaningful.
I’m convinced that fog computing is an important concept that will lead to a tangible strategy for organizing our thinking and investments to be able to improve the world through deployment and use of 50 billion or more connected devices. So if we are going to change the world with connected devices, we should get back to understanding why there are still all-too-few conversations about fog computing.
First, consider that although the concept of fog computing is relatively new, key aspects of the problem domain like remotely monitoring “intelligent” devices has been around for a long time. Here is a historical reference from Wikipedia that is relevant: “French engineers built a system of weather and snow-depth sensors on Mont Blanc hat transmitted real-time information to Paris”. The year was 1847. The Wikipedia topic that references this history is titled “Telemetry”. While telemetric metering has roots back to the 19th century, the discipline is still thriving today with several international professional societies and work ongoing in health care, agriculture, transportation, manufacturing and many other industries and applications.
This highlights one of the challenges facing the fog computing initiative. There are many technologies and engineering disciplines required to fully realize the promise of fog computing. Many of these critical and related disciplines have long histories, large communities, and specialized terminology that existed before fog concepts were developed. Finding mechanisms to bridge these communities and languages is going to be an ongoing challenge that needs dedicated efforts. And it’s not just the field of telemetry, there are also potential connections with disciplines such as machine-to-machine communication, mesh computing, dew computing, mobile edge computing and many more. Each has their own practices, societies, conferences and communities. There are many points of possible connections that both need to know about what the fog computing initiative is all about, so they can choose how and when to participate.
Another area of related technologies and people are the “cloud-based” initiatives like cloudlet, grid computing, mobile edge computing, utility computing, and – you guessed it – even more. You might be asking if maybe I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be, but unfortunately, this is the reality that we have, and it is challenging. The good news is that there is a lot of innovation happening in all of these disciplines and they all have something unique to offer. Since fog computing bridges the continuum from cloud to device, it must bridge the gaps and bring the right technologies and people together to create something coherent and useful.
Let me end with this call to action. If you are working in a field that is related to fog computing and just getting familiar with the opportunities and challenges, reach out to your fellow technologists and business leaders to see if they want to get informed and connected. I would also suggest that you reach out to us at the OpenFog Consortium and especially the speakers bureau. Invite someone passionate about fog computing to present at your next society meeting or trade show event. You can also try contacting one of the founding member organizations like my employer, Dell EMC. We have knowledgeable engineers and sales professionals all around the globe that would be excited to have an opportunity to speak with your company or group about the current and future potential of fog computing.
Phil Hummel is a Data Scientist at Dell EMC, writer, speaker, thought leader and consensus builder passionate about collecting, organizing, and extracting value from data. Outside of work you can find him at Yosemite National Park or open spaces around the San Francisco Bay Area.