What Is Fog Computing? The Low Down on Cloud Computing's Newest Iteration

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

What once seemed like a lock to be a major part of every business may fade in importance, replaced by another technology.

Is cloud computing the future? From the way many businesses and experts are talking, it certainly would seem so. What company isn’t using the cloud in some way at this point?

Even so, the future of cloud computing may not be as rosy as many people seem to think. That’s not to say it will one day go the way of the Apple Newton or Betamax tapes. Far from it, in fact. But the reality is that in many ways, cloud computing may have trouble dealing with some of the challenges that are likely to crop up in the near future as more devices connect to the internet.

What once seemed like a lock to be a major part of every business may fade in importance, replaced by another technology that is growing in popularity: fog computing. It’s also known as edge computing or fogging, but whatever you call it, you’ll need to learn about it now to prepare for what will likely be a very foggy future.

What's the difference?

Comparing cloud computing with fog computing is important in order to understand how the two differ from each other. Under the traditional cloud model, most, if not all, of the data processing and applications are concentrated in the cloud. Since cloud computing grew in popularity during the same time that mobile devices exploded onto the scene, this makes sense.

Fog computing, on the other hand, takes many of those same processes and instead concentrates it in the devices themselves or on the edge of the network. It essentially means that data wouldn’t need to be transmitted using cloud computing networks since all of that is kept on smart devices.

Cloud computing certainly has many strengths; it’s why so many companies have adopted the cloud for their operations. The main problem is that transmitting and processing data requires bandwidth, and while the cloud is perfectly functional the way things are currently set up, rapid changes are coming to the connected world that could complicate matters.

The cloud requires lots of bandwidth and wireless networks have limitations. By using fog computing, the amount of bandwidth needed is greatly reduced. Fog computing basically allows transmitted data to bypass the internet, keeping it as local as possible. The most valuable data may still be transmitted through cloud networks, but much of the traffic would be kept off of those networks, freeing up bandwidth for everyone using the cloud.

Related Article: The Internet of Things: What Does It Have to Do With Business?

The Internet of Things

Now you may be thinking that if the bandwidth issue isn’t a problem right now, why would we ever need fog computing? It’s true that bandwidth isn’t a major issue at present, but the future may lead to a minor problem getting much bigger. The most pressing issue is the rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT). Some estimates put the current number of internet-connected “things” at around 25 billion, but by 2020, that number may grow to more than 50 billion. The IoT basically connects a wide variety of different items and objects to the internet, and current cloud computing models likely won’t be able to keep up with the increasing bandwidth needs.

There’s really no overstating the impact of the vast increase in the number of internet-connected things nor the incredible amount of big data that will be generated as the IoT grows. That’s why it’s so important to promote fog computing by allowing these internet-connected items to process data on their own without relying on a cloud network.

Smart traffic systems, energy grids, smart cars, and even health care systems would all deal with their own data locally, creating a more efficient system while also cutting down on overall costs. Crucial alerts and other important information would still be sent to the cloud, but use of fog computing would relieve larger workloads, reduce latency issues, and make for smoother responses as more people use the IoT.

Fog computing may not be as mainstream as cloud computing (the term was only recently coined, after all), but it may represent one of the most important developments for the growth of the Internet of Things. Fogging may not completely address all cloud computing advantages and disadvantages, but it is an important advancement as more of the world relies on internet-connected devices.

Anything that doesn’t currently fit into the cloud paradigm will have a place, which will allow faster growth and unprecedented technological evolution. In a world filled with big data, fog computing will prove to be a necessary tool all people will use.

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