As the Internet of Things continues its relentless expansion, generating close to 2.5 exabytes of data each day, Cisco is developing a new approach to network use that will allow more localised storage, processing and sharingof the increasing data flows from connected objects.

From Cloud to ‘Fog’ computing: Cisco looks to accelerate IoT innovation

The Internet of Things continues to feed the passions of high-tech leaders in the United States. Less than a month after the CES event in Las Vegas which rendered homage to this field of activity, highlighting a wide array of connected products, the market is continuing to shape its future at a rapid pace. In recent days we have seen a number of reports citing the various growth opportunities from this emerging sector, but at the same time pointing up the many barriers to development that the players involved will need to overcome soon. One of the major challenges for developers in the ‘connected’ sector is to guarantee storage and sharing of data in real time so that users can work in seamless fashion, while still maintaining high levels of security. Networking equipment manufacturer Cisco estimates that there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020. With this in mind, the company outlined at the DistribuTECH event in San Antonio, Texas this week its plans for the new IOx platform for ″fog"computing, an approach which will transform the network edge into a ‘distributed’ computing infrastructure, avoiding the need for data backhaul that can burden the network and ultimately affect its performance.

‘Fog’ platform for connected objects

Guido Jouret, General Manager of Cisco’s Internet of Things Business Group, toldthe conferencethat “in the next seven years, […] half of Internet traffic is going to come from things.” Unless servers are updated and/or changes made to the way data is stored, this change of scale is likely to slow down service performance and responsiveness. Given that the Internet of Things is now being extended to highly sensitive sectors such as healthcare and home security, it now seems vital to find a new approach. Accordingly, Cisco has come up with a new solution for the IoT age which calls for data to be processed at the endpoints of the network, for example in routers close to the data source.This approach is set to extend Cisco’s Cloud capability into what the company is now calling ‘fog computing’. The ‘fog’ is different from the Cloud in three ways: a) it will use Cisco industrial networked-devices to allow applications to run as close as possible to the data source; b) these devices will be more widespread geographically; and c) the platform will be geared to support mobile devices such as Internet Protocol video cameras. This ‘distributed computing’ model on which the new IOx platform is based has two main advantages: on the one hand it allows storage of larger amounts of data faster; and on the other the data is processed locally – in the field and in context, enabling automated responses.

Benefits across-the-board

The IoT market has been estimated to reach close to $20 trillion over the next several years, including $4.6 trillion in the global public sector alone. There are many advantages to ‘fog’ data management, including real-time context-based use of information. One likely area is smarter traffic lights. Using a video camera to sense for instance the flashing lights of an ambulance, they would automatically change to green to enable the emergency vehicle to pass through traffic. Another example is ‘self-maintaining’ trains: a sensor monitoring the train’s ball-bearings that detected overheating would feed an application that would alert the driver to stop at the next station for emergency maintenance. The key point is that this data could be processed and used almost instantaneously, providing on an industrial scale the kind of network power that already exists for connected objects linked to a telephone via Wifi or Bluetooth. With its new platform, Cisco is looking to become an IoT backbone player. To help drive forward with this capability, the company last year acquired Atlanta-based smart energy management specialist JouleX, and in October set up its IoT business division.

By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst