Fog Computing Aims to Reduce Processing Burden of Cloud Systems
"You can't send all of that data over expensive networks ... and you don't want to store it in the cloud in perpetuity," Burns said. Cisco is aggressively building out its fog computing efforts and IOx platform. It not only increased the number Cisco products to 16—from switches to routers to IP cameras—that will support the platform, but also the list of partners for the ecosystem around it. More than a dozen companies have signed on, including IBM, SAP, Xerox, Siemens, General Electric and Honeywell. In addition, application integration and management are 10 times easier, according to Cisco's Baker. Through IOx and APIs, Cisco is putting such computing capabilities as business intelligence and analytics, compute, storage, network devices and control applications in the fog, between the devices and the cloud. In presentations, Cisco officials cite several examples where having these capabilities closer to the devices is proving beneficial.Bit Stew is a 9-year-old company that offers its Grid Director product to the utility industry. Grid Director gives customers an in-depth and real-time view of their smart grids, offering such capabilities as real-time analytics and dynamic event management. The company—which is a Cisco partner and the recipient of Cisco funding—is working with several utilities in both the United States and Canada, including BC Hydro, whose service area in British Columbia is about the size of California, Oregon and Washington combined, according to Bit Stew CTO Kai Hui. BC Hydro has about 1.8 million smart meters in the field that all send back a wide range of information, Hui told eWEEK. The meters can, for example, sense when power goes down somewhere in the grid and send a message to the control center. However, when that happens, officials in the control center must then find out if effected area was part of a work order—and the alert can be ignored—or if it's something new and needs to be addressed. Such tasks are time-consuming and not scalable, the CTO said. That should change next year, when BC Hydro fully embraces IPv6 and can take advantage of fog computing capabilities offered through Cisco and Bit Stew, Hui said. For example, the utility will be able to add an application and install a policy that tells a sensor that if an outage is tied to a work order, there's no need for an alert. In addition—now that Bit Stew can integrate Grid Director into Cisco's connected grid routers in the network—it can bring the compute capabilities it offers in the utility's data center (such as analytics and processing) to the edge and better address the concerns of utilities around grid resilience and security. BC Hydro has about 3,000 connected grid routers in its environment, which Hui said means 3,000 points of fog computing potential. "It's pretty powerful," he said. Most of the utilities Bit Stew works with are eager to move into edge computing, the CTO said. They see the benefits of better security and resiliency, reduced latency and lower costs. "The utility industry understands the value of fog and edge computing, but I don't think they're all there yet," Hui said, noting that it is ready to adopt distributed monitoring but more reluctant for security reasons to embrace distributed control. "It's a cultural and policy thing. They want to ensure 110 percent security before allowing distributed control. … Eventually they will get there."
With railway systems, sensors can detect and immediately respond to equipment failures and monitor the health of the trains in real time. In oil and gas fields, they can proactively monitor pipelines for problems, while in cities, fog computing can help manage traffic congestion.