What is fog computing?

Nicole Kobie

15 Mar, 2018

The cloud is as ubiquitous in computing as it is in the skies over Britain, but experts have forecast a new meteorological-named IT architecture that could become just as important: fog computing.

What is fog computing?

Let’s help cut through your haze: just like cloud computing, fog computing is an architecture for remote document storage, but rather than housing it all on one server (or one company’s servers), your files are distributed. That doesn’t mean there are copies of them on multiple servers, but that the data that makes up your files is spread widely, so no-one but you can see the entire thing.

“Our proposal is based on this idea of a service that renders information completely immaterial – in the sense that, for a given period of time, there’s no place on earth that contains information complete in its entirety,” noted the researchers, Rosario Culmone and Maria Concetta De Vivo of the University of Camerino, who submitted the idea via a paper in the International Journal of Electronic Security and Digital Forensics.

If your files are always split into smaller pieces of data, they’re less useful to hackers, thus boosting security. It also means that if local authorities want to see your files, they won’t be able to access them in their entirety, with the bits spread across multiple jurisdictions.

How does it work on a technical level?

The “fog” uses standard networking protocols in a new way, using virtual buffers in routers to send packets of your data every which way, all the time – so no file ever sits in its entire, full form on a single server at any given time.

The researchers compared it to sending a letter with a tracking device in the mail, but rather than have it delivered to one place, it bounces around from post office to post office. That would make it rather hard for a snoop or thief to find, since there’s no way of knowing if it’s in transit in a postman’s bag, or which sorting office it’s sat in. But the owner of the letter need only enable the tracking device to find it immediately.

Sounds like it could go horribly wrong

There would be bandwidth pressure if we stored our entire collections of data in such a way, but fog computing could offer an alternative to cloud computing for those who need extra secure remote storage.

Isn’t fog computing to do with IoT?

Yes and no. The decentralised storage and computation of Internet of Things data at the edges of networks, rather than in data centres, uses the same weather-themed jargon, although it’s sometimes known as “edge computing”.

When will this be available?

Sorry, the Camerino researchers offered no forecast of when to expect fog computing to be ready for use. We also don’t yet know what the next meteorological IT buzzword will be. We just hope it involves sunshine, this time.