Cloud, Mist, Fog, Droplets and the Internet of Things

Cloud, Mist, Fog, Droplets — I heard it all at an “Internet of Things” conference last Saturday, May 31, 2014. The event was sponsored by the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs in Boston.  Verizon, Cisco and a wearables startup Quanttus participated.  Quanttus was too secretive.  All they said was that they had raised 22M$ in their first year and were concentrating on cardiovascular monitoring and getting FDA approval for trials “soon”.  Verizon and Cisco were more forthcoming about their plans for IoT and the transformative beginnings of large scale machine to machine and machine to human data communications and the intelligent use of this data.

Theresa Wong, Director of Internet of Things Strategy at Verizon, spoke of an IoT market of 30 billion devices by 2020, significantly larger than cellular.  Cloud services would support these interconnected devices affecting almost every business sector.  Where would the impact be felt?  Her answer included: building security, safety and energy management; consumer electronics, media and entertainment; health care advances in patient monitoring, medicine delivery and telemedicine; industrial sensors /gauges; in transport, vehicle tracking and tolls and shipment monitoring; retail point of sales displays and vending; public safety such as for ambulances, lone workers and Homeland Security; IT and Networks, for PCs, Storage, routers and the like.  And what would be the time frame for this?  The application enablement phase had started for low-cost long-tail solutions.  2016 onwards we would start seeing the convergence of siloed solutions.

A key point made by Theresa Wong was that the IoT opportunity was global and that non-cellular technologies would be pervasive.  By 2020 she saw the global device breakdown as over 40% for APAC, 25% for EU with North America at 20%.  For wearables that are now catching the public imagination, she saw the market as 200M$ by 2018.  Wearables for fitness, wellness, chronic disease management, cameras and portable media players, smart watches, people tracking, smart apparel and enterprise uses were all mentioned.  Finally she spoke about “smart cities” enabled by IoT, but how the flavor would be very different for different parts of the world, fueled by local needs and challenges.  For Verizon, a key IoT area will be “Converged Health Management” where devices and cloud link patient and doctor and other providers in a rich environment.

Cisco’s Kevin Shatzkammer, Distinguished Systems Architect at Cisco, spoke passionately about the IoT market heading towards 50 billion smart objects by 2020.  This was higher than the Theresa’s 30 billion estimate.  He spoke of sensors, machine to machine and machine to human communication (the “Internet of Everything”) with the concurrent need for transporting and analyzing this information as Big Data in the cloud (the  paradigm was that there will be ‘6 things on-line’ for every person).   Machine-to-machine (M2M)/IoT and Big Data are “inseparable” was a consistent theme; after the initial interconnect, the value came from Big Data analytics with aggregation of data as a huge challenge (a jet engine generates 10,000 Gigabytes of data every 30 minutes!).

Most intriguing was Cisco’s concept of Fog Computing — a distributed edge computing paradigm for IoT. Cisco is betting on Fog to be huge.   It is a concept similar to the cloud, but with selected computation, networking and storage functions pushed closer to the edge.  A car was given as an example of where real-time M2M information could be shared locally in a “fog” that processes this information and periodically communicated with the cloud.  Low latency, location and context awareness, real time analytics and a heterogeneous environment of a large number of nodes characterize the Fog for Cisco.  The advantages are localized intelligence for faster response (as in an emergency), local caching with reduced network load, better security for sensitive data.  But there are challenges, too.  Fog nodes will need to be robust, hardened devices, needed more storage and more energy.

From consumer apps through military deployments there is no question that we are at the threshold of IoT and IoE as a disruptive explosion of new capability.  And yes, there is new jargon.  We already spoke of the Cloud and Fog.  Mist was mentioned as a Mobile-Cloud streaming platform.  Droplets were mentioned as elements of cloud functionality that are similar.  You pick droplets to construct the compute infrastructure you need.