Fog computing in the AV sector
Jargon is widespread in the IT sector. The important thing is to understand networking and its possibilities, writes Paul Skelton.
For years the home automation industry and the wider IT sector have been pushing users to the cloud.
However, as end users become more aware of latency and performance issues, there has been a greater focus on local processing.
So what exactly is fog computing and what role will it play in the future of home automation?
As explained by CEDIA senior director of technology and Standards Walt Zerbe, it’s a hierarchy. “The cloud is the highest layer,” Walt says.
“Devices send commands to the cloud, decisions are made, then they’re sent back to the device.
“This results in a lot of latency, which isn’t good.”
“There’s a lot of processing power in the cloud, so it’s good for applications that require a lot of power. But what if the internet is down and your device is cloud dependent? It will simply cease to function.
“At the most local level you have edge computing, through which all processing occurs right at the device – the very edge.
“At the moment, though, edge computing isn’t powerful enough to process all commands locally.
“The ‘fog’ sits between the cloud and the device, bringing some intelligence into the residence so that basic commands can be processed locally.
“If your internet isn’t working, your device can still perform basic actions so that you’re not locked out completely.
“They won’t be the most complicated tasks, but they could include everyday stuff like turning lights on if someone passes a motion detector.”
Dr Rajkumar Buyya is a professor and director of the Cloud Computing and Distributed Systems (CLOUDS) Laboratory at the University of Melbourne.
“Fog is a new computing paradigm that emerged to support Internet of Things (IoT) applications,” he says.
“Whether it is the smart home, smart healthcare, smart cities or smart transport, these are different applications that involve interaction between the physical world and the cyber world, to organise resources and use resources effectively.
“That is really the goal of IoT-based applications – creating a smart environment for the effi cient use of resources.”
Because IoT applications sense the physical environment, they continuously generate an enormous amount of data. Conventionally, this has been deployed to the cloud.
“The cloud is generally located somewhere in a centralised remote location,” Rajkumar says.
“Right now this is fi ne and everything is working, but the number of IoT devices being deployed is increasing rapidly.
“When you start deploying IoT devices into every home, road, car and office, then too much data will be pushed to the cloud. This will create two problems.
“The first is latency. When we make a request, the time it takes to get a response will be too long. IoT applications need to make decisions in real time.
“Second, if you keep pushing all the data to the cloud, that will increase traffic using the internet. How do we solve these two issues? The answer seems to be fog computing.”
Walt says integrators should include a mix of all three technologies – cloud, fog and edge.
“We’ll eventually have enough smarts to do everything at the device, and it will be cheap enough to widely deploy this technology. But we’re not there yet.
“At the moment, Josh.ai probably does more on the fog-based voice control side of things than any other solution.
“If your internet connection goes down Alexa is not going to do a thing, and neither will Google Home, but Josh will still do basic commands.”
During a recent episode of the CEDIA Tech Council podcast (episode 1811, The Cloud – and the Fog and the Mist) Josh.ai founder Alex Capecelatro warned against buying into the buzz words and jargon floating around the industry.
“Just understand the ramifi cations,” he says.
“With cloud, you have latency and a number of outside issues that could cause slow connections or no connection. When you’re local, you don’t have access to a lot of devices and processing. Fog is the in-between.
“Terminology is nothing but words that someone made up. The words ‘fog’ and ‘mist’ may not hang around.
“The phrase ‘fog computing’ is actually owned by Cisco – just keep in mind that it’s not the terminology that matters but the concept and what is going on.
“We’ve actually been doing fog computing for a long time. It’s the way smart homes have essentially been running since the beginning.
“If you give a command like ‘turn on my lights’ and that command has to go out to the cloud and back, you have latency.
“You have to deal with your connectivity and it can be slow.
“Fog computing is attempting to bring that processing onto the local network. You lose the latency and make it a lot faster, but it’s happening on a processor other than the cloud client device.”
Walt agrees that latency is the biggest setback for cloud processing and will drive the adoption of fog-oriented devices. However, the inability to access an offline home presents a business opportunity for integrators.
“The ability to access your home in the event of an internet blackout reinforces the need for a solid wireless network with roaming capabilities.
“Every integrator should be installing either ‘prosumer’ or enterprise-grade networking products in every project they undertake.
“Enterprise-grade product should always be the preferred option, and it’s time to move beyond the 1Gb network for homes to 10Gb.”
Walt says CEDIA offers several education options for residential integrators looking to bolster their knowledge of networking, as it is the future of the sector.
“Everyone still needs to know the fundamentals of audio, video and control.
“But thanks to the IoT, the most important skill you need for the future is an understanding of networking. Many of the newer systems require virtual private networks or virtual local area networks to work reliably.”