City infrastructure benefits from cloud, fog, and edge computing just as much as office applications. Source: Shutterstock

City infrastructure benefits from cloud, fog, and edge computing just as much as office applications. Source: Shutterstock

The CXO’s guide to cloud, fog, and edge computing

COMPANIES that have been thinking about computing infrastructure, have been dealing with the “cloud” for the better part of a decade now. However, fog and edge computing are quite new — and seem to be taking over important discussions everywhere.

Here’s a really quick guide for CXOs to explain what cloud, fog, and edge computing really are, and why they’re suddenly so important to enterprises. We’ll dive into fog and edge computing and then circle back to cloud computing to compare the three.

Lifting the fog on fog computing

Fog computing is simply a way for companies to decentralize their computation and analytical power in order to make their “connected” ecosystems more efficient.

“Fog provides the missing link for what data needs to be pushed to the cloud, and what can be analyzed locally, at the edge,” said Purdue University’s College of Engineering Dean Mung Chiang.

Given the rising importance of fog computing to the age of industrial automation and autonomous transportation, a new organization called The OpenFog Consortium has been created to help make fog computing easier.

“Fog computing is a system-level horizontal architecture that distributes resources and services of computing, storage, control and networking anywhere along the continuum from Cloud to Things,” according to the Consortium.

In essence, as a result of fog computing, companies are able to use the computing power on nodes — between devices that collect or generate data and the official enterprise cloud platform — to quickly generate insights and make decisions that matter.

Closing in on edge computing

Edge computing, in many ways, is easier to understand than fog computing. It essentially means that all computing happens on the device itself, and only important important is related back to the enterprise cloud (maybe via the fog).

Let’s take autononous cars as an example to understand edge computing.

When autonomous cars are accepted by consumers and used commonly, there will be plenty of cars on the road. For all of them to send data to the cloud and wait for a response in order to take action is quite impractical.

Although 5G will make wireless communications much more efficient and powerful, they’ll still be unable to cater to the demands of the world’s autonomous cars. Hence, the car itself needs to be able to compute and make decisions based on data it gathers.

If it faces any inconveniences, say it predicts it will need a maintenance to be scheduled or has a part failure, the vehicle can then relay back that information to the cloud or the fog.

The same is true for all devices equipped with sensors and connected in some way to the next-generation industrial ecosystem. Be it connected cameras, industrial robots, or anything else.

Cloud computing and the growing need for distinction

Cloud computing is exciting. It’s been around for almost a decade now and is something that businesses have come to rely on.

Whether it’s software as a service (SaaS) or data processing power, many companies have leveraged the cloud to gain cost and other benefits that other technologies would ordinarily find hard to provide.

However, in the industrial context, cloud computing forms the comprehensive platform that helps provide the business with the power to process important data and generate insights.

Far away, devices that have some computing power are relied upon to crunch their own data and relay back information that is critical to its operation or the business’ decision makers.

In between is the fog and it basically supplies computing power to devices that can’t do it themselves — while avoiding sending all data to the cloud to keep things simple, convenient, and free from unnecessary lags.

Finally, the reason why all of this is suddenly important is simple: It’s because businesses are realizing that everything can collect data, they know that data and information is power, and they want to capitalize on that information in a way that’s both cost efficient and resource light.

The future will see more discussions around edge, fog, and cloud computing.