While the whole world talks about the benefits of Cloud Computing, a new trend – edge/fog computing – is reshaping the IT landscape. In contrast to the oft-cited data cloud, fog or edge computing involves decentralised data processing on-site. The term „fog“ emphasises the conceptual closeness to the „clould“ but things happen much closer to the user. Edge computing basically refers to the same thing; the term describes data processing that takes place at the edge of the IT network. Especially for Industry 4.0 scenarios, the previous limits of IT (the office or the server room) are being extended into production areas. Locally and decentralised at the source of the data, not in air-conditioned data centres.
Decentralized data processing at the edge of the network
There are clear advantages to edge computing: as more and more end devices are networked in the course of the internet of things, huge mountains of data are created which require extremely fast and therefore expensive data connections for their proper transmission. Fog computing, on the other hand, takes care of basic data processing locally and forwards only the results to the central cloud providers. As a result, the amount of data being transferred decreases considerably. This reduced data volume also results in a reduced vulnerability to malicious attacks. It can also lead to significantly lower latency for industrial control systems because the data is processed locally and does not leave the local networks. There are also compliance reasons for using edge computing – storing raw data locally provides improved security and protection for your data.
Suitable devices for edge computing applications
In the traditional production environment, data processing has tended to focus on operating individual machines or facilities. In contrast, the digital transformation underway in industrial enterprises now aims at an all-encompassing networking of all “things” – Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the magic word. Simple IoT gateways usually only communicate with cloud providers without saving or analysing the data. For such applications, traditional industrial PCs are unsuitable because they have excessive performance, size, and costs. Small versatile computers are therefore required; these must be able to work reliably in a harsh environment, handle various protocols and process data. On the MICA, for example, database programs and protocols can be installed and connected like smartphone apps. So data can be collected and processed on-site with speed and flexibility. Since the MICA is designed for protection class IP67, it can transition seamlessly from prototyping to permanent installation on a machine.
The best of both worlds
The synergy results from the good scalability and availability of the cloud, which can be used for capacity bottlenecks in local IT resources or as a fallback solution. It also provides a central storage location for collecting and presenting the results of the processed raw data from multiple locations.
Cloud providers also offer post-processing services, such as machine learning or big data analytics, which are difficult to implement locally. The collected data can then be accessed centrally on the cloud storage. The MICA.network provides MICA-based solutions for such applications. These help bridge the gap between fog/edge computing and the cloud.
IT decision-makers are increasingly facing the question of whether to process their data in the cloud or in the fog. In the long term, it will be hard to avoid a combination of both.