How fog computing can sharpen healthcare analytics

Experts say fog computing extends the concept of cloud computing to the network edge, making it ideal for IoT and other applications that require real-time interactions.

Jeff Rowe | Jan 22, 2018 12:00 am

While many healthcare organizations are just sorting through their preliminary cloud options, the fact is the technology keeps changing and new developments are constantly changing the landscape.  Which means there’s always one more development for an organization to factor in as a potential addition to its cloud strategy.

To wit, fog computing.

Writing recently at Network World, Brandon Butler introduced fog computing as “another layer of a distributed network environment  . . . closely associated with cloud computing and the internet of things (IoT). Public infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud vendors can be thought of as a high-level, global endpoint for data; the edge of the network is where data from IoT devices is created. Fog computing is the idea of a distributed network that connects these two environments.”

Echoing Butler’s overview, Mung Chiang, dean of Purdue University’s College of Engineering and one of the nation’s top researchers on fog and edge computing, noted, “Fog provides the missing link for what data needs to be pushed to the cloud, and what can be analyzed locally, at the edge.”

In practical terms, Butler says what fog computing boils down to is “more choices for processing data wherever it is most appropriate to do so. For some applications, data may need to be processed as quickly as possible . . . Fog computing can create low-latency network connections between devices and analytics endpoints. This architecture in turn reduces the amount of bandwidth needed compared to if that data had to be sent all the way back to a data center or cloud for processing. It can also be used in scenarios where there is no bandwidth connection to send data, so it must be processed close to where it is created.”

One application of fog computing that could be particularly useful for healthcare is real-time analytics. “Fog computing deployments can help facilitate the transfer of data between where its created and a variety of places where it needs to go.”

And, for those tempted to confuse fog computing with edge computing, Butler turns to Helder Antunes, senior director of corporate strategic innovation at Cisco and a member of the OpenFog Consortium, who says that edge computing is a component, or a subset of fog computing.

“Think of fog computing as the way data is processed from where it is created to where it will be stored. Edge computing refers just to data being processed close to where it is created. Fog computing encapsulates not just that edge processing, but also the network connections needed to bring that data from the edge to its end point.”