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Smart cities a prime use case for fog computing

Industrial IoT 5G Insights discussed the emergence of fog computing with Cisco, Prismtech and the Open Fog Consortium at IOT Solutions World Congress.

While cloud-centric Internet of Things (IoT) platforms today play a central role in processing the vast amounts of data produced by connected things, requirements for low latency, enhanced security, platform and box consolidation, not to mention lower costs in the industrial IoT, could drive the adoption of fog computing, an architecture using compute nodes at the network edge. ”Fog computing is the missing link in the IoT,” said Marcelo Yannuzzi, technology strategist, corporate strategic innovation group, at Cisco, when meeting Industrial IoT 5G Insights during IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona. ”The IoT produces huge amounts of data and requires compute resources right where data is produced; you need a powerful compute node at the edge.”

This is the best way to handle, on time, the many terabytes of data generated by industrial IoT and smart city applications, according to Yannuzzi. ”Fog computing becomes a necessity when latency involved in sending and receiving data to and from the cloud is not acceptable,” added Angelo Corsaro, chief technology officer at Adlink affiliate Prismtech.

In addition, connectivity costs for sending these volumes of data are much higher when all the data is sent to the cloud for processing. Cloud-averse regulation could also help push fog computing, according to Cisco’s Yannuzzi. One such example is regulation in Barcelona prohibiting to command traffic lights from the cloud. Fog computing could also be a better option than cloud computing when it comes to IoT security, offering faster reaction to cyberattacks. Lynne Canavan, executive director of the Open Fog Consortium, agrees with Corsaro and Yannuzzi that the recent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks using IoT devices could have been mitigated using fog computing.

Fog computing in Barcelona smart city

Now, this is not to say that fog computing will be replacing cloud computing altogether. Both architectures have a role to play in the industrial IoT. ”Fog computing works together with cloud in a continuum between the edge and the cloud,” said Corsaro at Prismtech. The company has been collaborating with Cisco on the implementation of smart city services in Barcelona using fog computing, a deployment that blurs the line between cloud and fog computing, according to Cisco’s Yannuzzi.

In order to realize Barcelona city council’s smart city vision at scale and validate a multi-vendor software platform, Cisco started the proof of concept (PoC) in May 2015. The project entered production in January 2016. Besides Prismtech, project partners include Sensefields, Plat.one, Schneider Electric, Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Technical University of Catalonia and i2cat.

Cities have historically worked and deployed functions and services in silos. Over time, this has led to the deployment of a multitude of platforms and gateways. Using fog computing, Cisco wanted to break down those silos while converging functions onto a centralized management platform. ”There are 3,300 street cabinets in Barcelona, for traffic, lighting, energy and IT functions. The city wanted to consolidate these functions into a new generation of cabinets and deploy a common IT infrastructure,” explained Yannuzzi. ”By implementing fog computing, we can for example provide real-time monitoring of energy or decision-making logic virtualized in the fog. We can also offer security functions triggered by events directly in the fog.”

In addition to gaining access to a single platform, Barcelona can realize major operational and investment savings, according to Yannuzzi. ”There is a huge reduction in operating expenditure (Opex) and also reductions in capital expenditure (Capex). Furthermore, the city increased its go-to-market speed and opened its ecosystem to external innovation; bringing some new service to life in Barcelona could take weeks before. It now can take as little as 30 seconds.”

Fog computing gaining momentum

Cisco is one of the founding members of the Open Fog Consortium, together with Microsoft, Dell, Intel, ARM and Princeton University. The Open Fog Consortium states the organization aims to ”drive industry and academic leadership in fog computing architecture, testbed development, and a variety of interoperability and ’composability’ deliverables that seamlessly leverage cloud and edge architectures to enable end-to-end IoT scenarios”. ETSi, with its Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) industry specification, Carnegie Mellon’s Cloudlets as well Microsoft’s Micro data center are all playing in the same field. The Open Fog Consortium promotes here a collaborative approach. ”There is MEC in Europe and we will leverage each others’ work,” said Lynne Canavan, executive director of the Open Fog Consortium.

Just as the other founding members of the organization, Cisco has an interest in the technology taking off, in particular to stay relevant in the data center space. Fog computing has in fact been around for a few years now but the IoT, in particular the industrial IoT and smart cities, might just have created the perfect storm for the technology to take off. It will be interesting to see how fog computing fits in future 5G networks and their promise of ultra-low latency, higher bandwidth and much lower connectivity costs.

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