The internet of things (IoT) is all around us now. From the millions of Amazon Alexas to the increasingly connected factories around the world, IoT is making our daily lives and tasks easier. One aspect lost in the noise surrounding the emergence of IoT is the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution. Differences in IoT solutions tie back to the location where data is being sent and processed. Is data being sent to one central location, often a server farm, or is that not feasible due to locale, resources or preference?
There are always several factors to take into account when choosing between edge, fog and cloud computing. While each solution’s goal is the same, their capabilities are not.
So what’s the difference?
Processing data at the edge means analyzing information at the source instead of waiting for the data to be sent back to a centralized location. This technique is especially useful when data sources (sensors or other devices) are in remote locations where connectivity is difficult, expensive or impossible. Even if a location has access to some level of connectivity, sending large amounts of data to be processed elsewhere can take too long or be too expensive.
Edge computing removes the hassle of needing connectivity and can immediately break down data into useful pieces of information for use at the source. If the data isn’t being used as part of a larger system but instead to inform a specific piece of equipment or facility only, edge computing is a great solution. There’s no waiting on potential maintenance red flags from headquarters or offsite personnel. The information is upfront, and there is no delay from processing it elsewhere. The edge is the king of non-connectivity and is usually the correct solution for operators in far-removed locations. For those operating in a slightly more centralized and connected manner, there is typically a more appropriate solution.
The fog probably has the most “fog” around its meaning. It’s a solution that lies somewhere in between the edge and the cloud but is more closely aligned with edge computing. Data is collected from sensors and sent to a local area network (LAN) instead of being sent to the cloud in a centralized location for processing. This also allows data points from multiple sources to be processed at a single location for comparison and analysis, giving a big-picture view of the local network while still maintaining a relatively small scale. The main benefits of using fog computing are its increased efficiency over the cloud when sending large amounts of data and reduced security risks due to its decentralized nature.
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