Move over, cloud computing -- Cisco is launching "fog computing." The networking company used that term Wednesday to describe its vision for a distributed infrastructure of application processing to handle the emerging Internet of Things (IoT).
For months, Cisco has been releasing reports on the IoT, which is a term describing the billions of devices that have or will have sensors, connectivity and/or processing. This includes refrigerators, cars, jet engines, thermostats, light bulbs, street lights, door knobs, shipping containers and virtually anything else that can benefit by being smart, being tracked or by reporting streams of data. Cisco said a conservative estimate is that 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020, resulting in a tidal wave of data. The company points out that a single jet engine, for instance, can generate 10 terabytes of data in a half hour.
Cisco has begun using an even more encompassing term, the Internet of Everything, to describe the criss-crossing processes and services connecting all those Things. A central issue to this vision of wired Things is that processing this deluge of data will be a huge infrastructure problem, while delays in processing and reporting could negate the value of wiring the Things in the first place.
Enter IOx, Cisco's new IoT platform where software applications processing Thing data will reside on Cisco's industrial-grade networked devices, such as routers, switches and IP video cameras.
This architecture, announced at the DistribuTech utility industry trade show now taking place in San Antonio, combines open-source Linux OS with the Cisco Internetworking Operating System (IOS). Under this approach, much if not most of the lower-level application processing would reside closer to the Things themselves. Cisco is promoting the idea that this environment will encourage developers to create applications and technical interfaces for the edge of the network, which it has dubbed as "bring your own applications," or BYOA, and "bring your own connectivity interfaces," or BYOI. IOx capabilities will begin rolling out to Cisco industrial routers in the spring.
The company gives several example use cases. Energy load-balancing applications, monitoring a given set of devices, could automatically and quickly switch to green energies when demand, availability and price make that a good decision, assisted by lower-level processing conducted closer to the devices.
A smart traffic light could sense an ambulance's flashing lights and immediately change stoplights to green to lay down an open path, and air vents in mines could promptly change airflow if conditions turn dangerous. For all these devices, the application processing would be dependent on multiple data inputs from multiple devices, with much of the processing conducted in Cisco's edge network equipment.
Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, noted that the huge data flow from Things often just boils down to answers to a few key questions, such as "is the device detecting any problems?" He pointed out that, "if those data points are examined locally, and the normal answer" is that everything is fine, that could tremendously reduce data traffic on the Net. The heavy duty and higher level application processing could still be done back at a data center.
But he told us there's a major question about whether companies want Cisco to corner that market for local processing. "No one wants to give that choke point to any other company," Kay said, adding that this approach could have much more buy-in if it were an industry standard.