It’s time to take a deeper dive into the future of the cloud versus fog computing and how 5G is going to play a significant role. Last month I opened my column discussing cloud versus edge computing. I even explained how fog entered into the world debate after Cisco believed it needed something to help explain how its technology offered more depth than what was being delivered to date.
So this week there is no need to look into the future of the cloud versus fog computing because it is pretty clear that the way forward for businesses adopting the IoT (Internet of Things) is to leverage cloud, edge, and fog computing architectures. Just like other aspects of putting IoT solutions together, deciding on the right balance of cloud and edge computing is kind of like piecing together a puzzle. And with that in mind, we can’t leave out the ways edge computing and 5G technologies will intersect in the near future.
Let me pose this question. Where are we right now with the discussion of cloud computing? Perhaps we might want word it differently. Maybe we should ask: How does 5G fit into the discussion? Or perhaps how will 5G play a role in all this fast-paced technology?
In fog or edge computing, computing and storage happens near end-user devices, rather than in the cloud. As many of you who have been in this industry for a while know, the move to the cloud began the trend to centralize data using the Internet.
The cloud has obvious benefits. It has revolutionized the way software is built, deployed, and maintained during this past decade. Benefits include the theoretical ability to use infinite compute and storage resources in the cloud to process data and—even more importantly—to drive business insights using this data. However, the cloud isn’t perfect.
By nature, the cloud is all about aggregation and consolidation, and this isn’t always ideal. For instance, consolidation between a handful of mega-cloud vendors has made it so that if there is an issue or outage, the disruption is widespread. End-to-end latency in cloud architectures is also something we talk a lot about in IoT solutions.
In some cases, the cloud doesn’t work very well when you need to respond quickly to data. As an example, consider a scenario in which you are reading values at high frequencies from a vibration sensor and looking for patterns indicative of a machine failure.
Pushing this data to the cloud for processing requires a lot of bandwidth, which adds to data costs, and it also creates network latency. So, earlier, I noted the cloud is about aggregation and consolidation. Well, by contrast, fog or edge computing is about the distribution and dispersal of computing. In the vibration sensor scenario, it would be preferable to process this data at the edge, near the vibration sensor, and respond accordingly.
Edge computing results in faster response times and a more optimal use of the network.
For these reasons and others, fog is going to enable many applications of the IoT, especially in conjunction with 5G networks.
The OpenFog Consortium estimates that worldwide growth for fog computing between 2019 and 2022 will be in the realm of $18.2 billion, with the four biggest markets being transportation, industrial, . healthcare, and energy/utilities. Concurrently, 5G is set to grow exponentially
Ericsson’s latest mobility report says acceleration of the 5G NR (new radio) standardization schedule will enable large-scale trials and deployments of 5G starting in 2019. And the number of 5G subscriptions is forecast to exceed half a billion by the end of 2022.
As for specific applications, autonomous vehicles is a big one that will benefit from the intersection of 5G and fog computing trends. 5G will go a long way in enabling autonomous vehicles and the interaction between vehicles and smart city infrastructures, and, it seems, so will edge architectures.
If you consider the control system in an autonomous vehicle, having fog computing right there in the vehicle is a huge benefit. If you’re heading right for a pole or someone’s cutting in front of you, you need to be able to respond immediately.
You can’t wait to send a message all the way up to the cloud to trigger a response from the edge device, which in this case is a moving vehicle. Just a tiny bit of latency is too much latency in this case. More 5G use cases in which fog will play a role include AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) applications. To fully enable AR and VR, we need to reduce the amount of latency involved in these applications. Too much latency can break a user’s AR or VR experience.
In some cases, our brains process imagery more quickly than the network can serve it to us. That’s a recipe for motion sickness, as well as a poor overall user experience.
We also need users’ experiences to be consistent no matter what their connection is like. Therefore, experts are saying that to truly mainstream enterprise and consumer AR and VR experiences, we need to solve the latency issue.
Fog computing can help by bringing that computing power closer to the device at the edge of the network. One of the big promises of 5G is that these advanced networks will be very important in reducing latency and decreasing infrastructure bottlenecks. But, in order for this to happen, 5G is going to need to work hand-in-hand with fog computing.
So, I guess my last question for the day is, what other ways can you foresee 5G and fog computing enabling the connected world of the next decade and beyond? And if you want to learn more about fog computing, check out our latest feature and my companion blog up right now on connectedworld.com. We are in a very transformative time and these technologies are just the beginning of helping the IoT only get better.
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