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Fog computing in the broader context of a cloud-based ecosystem serving smart end-devices. Fog computing is not perceived as a mandatory layer for such ecosystems nor is the centralized (cloud) service perceived as being required for a fog computing layer to support the functionality of smart end-devices/ Credit: NIST

Fog computing in the broader context of a cloud-based ecosystem serving smart end-devices. Fog computing is not perceived as a mandatory layer for such ecosystems nor is the centralized (cloud) service perceived as being required for a fog computing layer to support the functionality of smart end-devices/ Credit: NIST

NIST document provides definitions for fog and mist computing

Fog, mist, cloudlets. These meteorological terms are gaining popularity in the world of computing. They are meant to complement centralised cloud computing in the context of the Internet-of-Things (IoT).

IoT devices generate unprecedented enormous volumes of data and it is challenging to transmit all the data back to the cloud for processing. With increasing need for smart, end-user IoT devices and near-user edge devices to carry out a substantial amount of data processing with minimal computing, fog computing offers a way to decentralise applications, management, and data analytics into the network itself using a distributed and federated compute model.

At the moment, no consensus exists on distinction among fog computing, mist computing, cloudlets, or edge computing. A recently released document from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) strives to provide a definition that can be used by practitioners and researchers to facilitate meaningful conversations.

The document provides the conceptual model of fog computing and its subsidiary mist computing, and aims to place these concepts in relation to cloud computing and edge computing.

The document also lists important aspects of fog computing and is intended to serve as a means for broad comparisons of fog computing capabilities, service models and deployment strategies.

Defining fog computing

Fog computing is defined by NIST as ‘a layered model for enabling ubiquitous access to a shared continuum of scalable computing resources’.

According to NIST, fog computing facilitates the deployment of distributed, latency-aware applications and services, and consists of physical or virtual fog nodes residing between smart end-devices and centralised cloud services.

Differentiating between edge and fog computing

The document defines edge computing as the network layer encompassing the end-devices and their users, to provide, for example, local computing capability on a sensor, metering or some other devices that are network-accessible. This is the IoT network itself. While edge computing runs specific applications in a fixed logic location and provides a direct transmission service, while fog computing runs applications in a multi-layer architecture that decouples and meshes the hardware and software functions, allowing for dynamic reconfigurations for different applications while performing intelligent computing and transmission services. Moreover, in addition to computation, and networking, fog computing also addresses storage, control and data-processing acceleration.

Fog Nodes - the core component of the fog computing architecture

According to the NIST document, fog nodes are either physical components such as gateways, switches, routers, servers, etc or virtual components like virtualized switches, virtual machines, cloudlets [1] etc that are tightly coupled with the smart end-devices or access networks, and provide computing resources to these devices.

A fog node is aware of its geographical distribution and logical location within the context of its cluster. Fog nodes are often co-located with the smart end-devices, resulting faster analysis and response to data generated by these devices compared to a centralised cloud service or data center. They provide some form of data management and communication services between the network’s edge layer where end-devices reside, and the fog computing service or the centralised (cloud) computing resources, when needed. The nodes can operate in centralised or decentralised manner and can be configured as stand-alone fog nodes that communicate among them to deliver the service. Or they can be federated to form clusters that provide horizontal scalability over disperse geolocations.

Fog computing minimises the request-response time from/to supported applications, and provides, for the end-devices, local computing resources and, when needed, network connectivity to centralized services.

Six essential characteristics of fog computing

  • Contextual location awareness, and low latency: Fog computing offers the lowest-possible latency due to the fog nodes’ awareness of their logical location in the context of the entire sytems and of the latency costs for communicating with other nodes.
  • Geographical distribution: The services and applications targeted by the fog computing demand widely, but geographically-identifiable, distributed deployments. An example would be the delivery of high quality streaming services to moving vehicles, through proxies and access points geographically positioned along highways and tracks.
  • Heterogeneity: Fog computing supports collection and processing of data of different form factors acquired through multiple types of network communication capabilities.
  • Interoperability and federation: Fog computing components must be able to interoperate, and services must be federated across domains.
  • Real-time interactions: Fog computing applications involve real-time interactions rather than batch processing.
  • Scalability and agility of federated, fog-node clusters: Fog computing is adaptive in nature, at cluster or cluster-of-clusters level, supporting elastic compute, resource pooling, data-load changes, and network condition variations.

Similar to cloud computing deployment models, fog node deployment could be private (for exclusive use by a single organisation comprising multiple consumers), community (use by a specific community of consumers from organisations that have shared concerns), public (provisioned for open use by the general public), hybrid (composition of private, community or public nodes that remain unique entities, but are bound together).

Mist computing

NIST defines mist computing as a lightweight and rudimentary form of fog computing that resides at the edge of the network fabric, bringing the fog computing layer closer to the smart end-devices. Mist computing uses microcomputers and microcontrollers to feed into fog computing nodes and potentially onward towards the centralised (cloud) computing services. It is not a mandatory layer of fog computing.

Read the document here.

[1] According to Wikipedia, a cloudlet is a mobility-enhanced small-scale cloud datacenter that is located at the edge of the Internet. 

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