'Fog' Computing Brings the Edge Closer

Cable techies are looking around "the fog."

At a Silicon Valley conference early this month, computer and communications experts delved into the IoT and "the fog," a derivative of cloud computing. CableLabs is evaluating the fog's role, especially in emerging wireless services, and Comcast awarded an "Innovation Fund" grant recently to a Princeton University "Cloud to Fog" research project

"Fog is 'distributed cloud,'" according to Don Clarke, principal architect at CableLabs, who noted that the concept emerged a couple years ago as a Cisco marketing term. Other experts acknowledged that "fog" and "edge" are often used interchangeably, but they are synergistic – not synonymous.

In a seminal academic paper on "The Fog Computing Paradigm" three years ago, Ivan Stojmenovic and Sheng Wen of Deakin University in Australia described scenarios in which fog services "can be hosted at end devices such as set-top boxes or access points."

By the researchers' reckoning the fog lies between the cloud and the edge. Fog computing is envisioned for use in wireless services, including mobile voice, Internet of Things and connectivity for autonomous vehicles and other new networks.

"Fog can be distinguished from cloud by its proximity to end users ... and its support for mobility," Stojmenovic and Wen wrote. "As fog computing is implemented at the edge of the network, it provides low latency, location awareness and improves quality-of-services for streaming and real-time applications."

Major developments have been taking place quietly since the paper's publication. The 400 attendees at the Fog World Congress in Santa Clara, Calif., Oct. 31-Nov. 1 examined evolving trends in fog computing, including increasing deployments of fog as an early-stage technology and as a solution to Internet of Things latency.

For example, at a session titled "Fog Over Denver," Traci Hiltonberry, director of innovation for the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, explained the creation of a "national model for fog computing and networking in a smart city ... [for] transportation and mobility, public safety, resilience and resource conservation, smart buildings and public health."

Another speaker forecast that fog computing will become an $18.2 billion market by 2022. Christian Renaud, research director-IoT at 451 Research, predicted that fog's primary uses will be in the utilities and energy sectors, followed by transportation, healthcare and industrial. He said he foresees revenue models growing by 37% from 2018 to 2022.

Meanwhile: Fog Forming in the Cable Industry
The potential for this "fog" capability at the network edge is on the minds of several cable operators, although they declined to provide status reports or timetables for implementing the architecture.

"The edge is the new piece of the cloud puzzle," CableLab's Clarke told Multichannel News. He said that identifying "latency and bandwidth efficiency between the cloud and the end user" is a critical issue in edge development.

"It's about relationships," he said, noting that there are "very different dynamics" as various sectors in the network operations business explore "how standards and open-source can become symbiotic."

Clarke said the "edge is where the connectivity provides the latency you need for the service experience," citing issues such as "where does that service terminate and where does the content get delivered?" He eschewed the word "fog," focusing instead on edge computing.

"These days you can put a lot of functionality [into] base station and other less complex, lower power consumption" devices, he said.

"Wireless is an important consideration as we architect these new networks at 5G [fifth generation] and beyond," Clarke said.

Meanwhile, Comcast said that with its grant -- of an unspecified sum -- to the Princeton University project, the company sought to support research into the "cloud-to-fog interface in the areas of storage, communications and management."

In announcing the grant, Jason Livingood, VP-technology policy & standards at Comcast Cable, called fog networking "an architectural approach that seeks to make networks more efficient by pushing network intelligence and processing capabilities closer to end users." Livingood said that fog computing processes would enable the "cloud and edge [to] form a mutually beneficial, interdependent continuum" that would eliminate or minimize the need to determine if a specific task should be handled in the cloud or at a customer's edge device.

"This project highlights the challenges and solution approaches in building a unified interface framework between edge and cloud under the fog-networking paradigm," Livingood said. A Comcast spokesman told Multichannel News that there is no specific timetable for a report on the Princeton research; he characterized the fog exploration as "pretty new."

At Princeton, the project is being supervised by Dr. Mung Chiang, an electrical engineering professor, founder of the Princeton EDGE Lab and a co-founder of the global Open Fog Consortium. Among the supporters of Princeton's EDGE Lab are ARM, Cisco, Dell, Intel and Microsoft.

Chiang has said he helped launch the consortium to address common problems with “edge networks” — the connections at the periphery of a more centralized network, close to the actual devices that use the network. In a Princeton profile of his work, Chiang said, “As we further develop the ‘Internet of Things’ — networked devices in smart cities or connected cars — we have a unique opportunity to bring the ‘cloud’ closer to the edge and users as ‘fog.’”

Photo by d3sign/Getty Images

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.