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Fog Computing: Fad or Phenomenon?

By: Blair Felter on July 3, 2014

You've heard about cloud computing — how public, private and hybrid deployments can improve your bottom line and help outsource baseline IT functions. Now, there's a new player in the game: Fog computing. Detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, the argument here is that interconnected devices all around us — 'the fog' — will eventually replace cloud-based systems since all computing will happen locally and organically. But is this just fad, or a phenomenon?

I Can See Clearly Now

Tech giants Cisco and IBM are the driving forces behind fog computing, and link their concept to the emerging Internet of Things (IoT). Right now, there might be hundreds of connected devices in an office or data center, but in just a few years that number could balloon to thousands or tens of thousands, all connected and communicating. Fog computing advocates say leveraging these devices is a more efficient way to transfer data. Why not let printers, desktops and servers push software updates to each other, rather than forcing them through the cloud?

There's certainly solid logic here, since companies face the increasingly difficult challenge of streaming high-density content like VoIP conferences and video files. Bandwidth is at a premium, and often negatively impacted when forced through distant cloud servers. Could fog computing be the easy answer?

More Confusion Than Clarity

GCN, meanwhile, argues that the fog is little more than marketing hype by the companies involved. The issue? Compute power as a commodity — like electricity or gas — depends on its ability to be uniform and vendor-neutral. By relying on local IoT-based networks rather than distributed cloud providers, there's a risk the fog won't be able to scale up on-demand and will rely on brand names rather than benign oversight.

What's more, IoT is just getting off the ground. Combining it with some aspects of cloud computing and then giving the concept a new name may do more harm than good, introducing more confusion to a marketplace where 'cloud' doesn't even have a consistent definition.

To Fog or Not to Fog?

Let's look at a useful example: The colocation data center. Increasingly, companies are relying on their own hardware colocated at a provider facility to get the best of both worlds: service and stability. Many colo sites are vendor-neutral, offering an ideal link to the cloud but could just as easily be converted to enable fog computing.

Does that mean the fog is the 'next big thing'? Not exactly. It's better, perhaps, to consider the fog as a shot across the bow to cloud computing, the first in a line of challenges to cloud ubiquity. For businesses trying to make the most of their technology investments, fog computing and other advancements (IoT, green computing) are a sign it's time to start thinking about more than just the cloud, time to start considering how concepts like the fog, content delivery networks (CDNs), and 'edge computing' play into bottom-line strategies.

The good news? Options like colocation mean no choice is set in stone — the cloud and the fog are both within reach.

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