The Future of IoT Is Clearly in the Fog

Guest article by Helder Antunes, Chairman of the Board of the OpenFog Consortium.

The number of connected devices in the world is predicted to mushroom to some 50 billion by 2020 —most of them the sensors, cameras, regulators, and controllers that compose the Internet of Things (IoT). These billions of devices will be churning out vast amounts of data about the operations of cars, trains, buildings, oilrigs, medical monitors, appliances, even “smart” pillows and toothbrushes. But how and where will all this data be processed into valuable information and insights?

The truth is, IoT has been growing at a pace that will not be sustainable using traditional data storage and cloud computing. IoT solutions are generating millions of petabytes of data every day. There’s just not enough bandwidth in the world to collect and transmit all that data all the way to the cloud. And if the solution depends on real-time or near-real-time information, the whole thing could grind to a halt. Imagine what would happen if the breaking function on an autonomous car had even a half-second delay between sensing the need to stop and applying the breaks—there would be crashes everywhere! Instead of a safer, more reliable driving environment, we would have more accidents, more damage, more lives lost.

That is why I believe that fog computing is one of the key technologies that will drive and enable the Internet of Things. “Fog” simply means bringing many of the compute, storage, and network capabilities of the cloud “down to earth.” Instead of having to transmit mountains of unstructured data, fog nodes near the edge of the network—where the data is generated—process it locally and send only exceptions or summaries back to the cloud. By adding a hierarchy of elements between the cloud and end-point devices, fog computing solves the issues of latency, bandwidth, reliability, and security that have historically limited IoT performance.

I represent Cisco as a founding member of the Open Fog Consortium—a relatively new industry body dedicated to ensuring the growth and interoperability of fog computing capabilities in IoT. Earlier this year, the OpenFog Consortium released its first major guidepost document, the OpenFog Reference Architecture (RA). It provides invaluable architecture recommendations for anyone wishing to implement fog components, fog nodes, entire fog networks, or fog-based applications.  And it includes several illustrative fog use cases in transportation, smart cities, and visual security.

The Open Fog Consortium has defined eight pillars of an open fog architecture.

The RA discusses eight core fog capabilities that we call the Pillars of OpenFog, including Security, Scalability, Openness, Autonomy, RAS (reliability, availability, serviceability), Agility, Hierarchical organization and Programmability. A detailed architecture stack shows the interrelationships between various hardware, software infrastructure, and application software layers, as well as various crosscutting concerns—such as security, performance, manageability, analytics and control—that affect the function of all layers.  Additionally, the document describes the OpenFog RA from several viewpoints (component level, node level, system level, etc.), so readers can select the perspective closest to their interests.  Finally, as security is one of the most complex and critical aspects of IoT systems, a special appendix dives deeply into OpenFog security guidelines.

The OpenFog Reference Architecture describes the interrelationships of various components of fog computing.

While the OpenFog RA is not a standards document, we intend to work with standards development organization partners to develop rigorous, enumerated standards covering many aspects of the OpenFog architecture.  This kind of collaborative work can accelerate the adoption of IoT to transform entire industries.

The number of connected devices in the world continues to grow at an exponential pace. We need an open, standards-based fog computing architecture to drive the transformative value of those connections. The future of IoT depends on it.

Helder Antunes serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the OpenFog Consortium, and is Senior Director, Corporate Strategic Innovation Group at Cisco. He is a results-driven technologist and Cisco veteran with more than 28 years of experience in leading product and solution development. In his current position, Mr. Antunes leads a team to identify major technology market disruptions and align them with Cisco’s key market initiatives and business unit strategies. Previously, as managing director of Cisco’s Internet of Things group, he focused on Smart Connected Vehicles, one of the fastest growing market opportunities for the IT sector. Mr. Antunes also works with the Portuguese government on innovation programs including the AICEP internship “INOV Contacto Program” and is a guest lecturer at several Portuguese universities. He also serves as an adviser to the Regional Government of the Azores, Portugal.  Mr. Antunes has received many awards for his work at Cisco and with the Portuguese government including the COTEC Portuguese Diaspora Entrepreneurial Innovation Award (multiple years).

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