What You Should Know About Fog Computing

Is fog on the ground? Or can fog be on the ground and in the clouds? Just when you got used to the term “cloud computing,” we now have “fog computing.” Hang on! Before you bounce, let me explain how this is important for lawyers (or others that are not into tech). My goal is to get people to understand the concepts first, and then fill in the concepts with the techno-terms, which are listed in parentheses.

I explain things simply by testing concepts on my  six-year-old son. If I can explain things to him, I can explain it to most anyone.

When I talked about cloud computing with my son, he said, “Clouds are up in the sky.” To illustrate cloud computing, I mimed the act of taking something in my hands (data or information), and throwing it up into a cloud.

But this is only one part of cloud computing; the second part is where the data sent up comes back down to another computer. Conceptually, cloud computing is a rocket ship blasting off and then returning to earth.

I asked my son if he knew of any problems with all of this up and down. Other than crashing (which dovetails nicely into computing issues), he mentioned the time it takes to make the trip. True! That travel time causes a delay from when data is sent to when it is received (latency).

Next, I asked my son what fog is. “Clouds that are on the ground,” he said. Yes! But again, it’s not this simple for fog computing. When we say fog computing, it really includes cloud computing. A better way of understanding fog computing is to change “fog computing” to be “anywhere-along-a-continuum computing.” Seriously, though, fog computing sounds much nicer.

Fog computing is a continuum. It’s a range that goes from the cloud to the ground-level, where our computers and devices are located. The main reason for this continuum is because not everything should go up to the cloud.

  • Sometimes, we want information sitting within a smart device. Or maybe we want our devices talking to other devices (device computing).
  • Sometimes we want information just above the device but not quite at the cloud-level (edge computing).
  • Sometimes we want information shooting up to the cloud (cloud computing).

Fog computing includes cloud computing, edge computing, and computing done at the device level. And this is the next push that is going to affect lawyers in many ways.

But let’s get back to what is mainly happening now, which is cloud computing. In cloud computing, we are sending information from a device up to the cloud and then down to another computer to process this information. The big problem is, as stated above, latency issues. Delays. And not everything needs to go up to the cloud. This is becoming more and more of an issue because our items are generating more and more data.

What is creating this data? Computers, smartphones, smart devices (IoT), cars, airplanes—basically anything with a computer in it.

Future tech developments like driverless cars (autonomous vehicles) will produce so much data that it is impractical to send it all up to the cloud. The data needs to be aggregated closer to the car to avoid delay (latency) issues.

Connected devices used in our homes don’t need to send all their data to the cloud either. If Alexa talks to your toaster and fridge and television and hair brush and personal assistant (seen at the recent CES show), this talking could remain at a lower level. Terabytes of data where the devices say,  “I’m ok,” could be compressed at the lower level and batch sent to the cloud. Or, only abnormal data could be sent to the cloud.

Fog Computing Has Other Benefits

  1. Data security: If you’re not sending as much information up and down a network, the data is more secure. This is a topic that many are aware is important yet most do not address or feel they are ill-prepared for breaches.
  2. System reliability: If you’re not sending information up and down a network, there are fewer chances of the data becoming corrupted so the system is more reliable.
  3. Less power needed to run devices: Fog computing includes the sharing resources at or near the edge of a system. By sharing resources left to right versus up and down, we need less power in each device as the devices work together.

Now, where do lawyers come in?  If lawyers understand the concepts behind this technological movement, they can drill down to addressing the practical legal aspects.

There’s the obvious topics, like data security. What data is being sent where? How will the data be stored?

In terms of liability issues, who is legally responsible if a product gets hacked? Who pays for damages?  Who is responsible for patching devices? Consider that a product could be as simple as smart hairbrush (Iot) or as huge as a driverless truck. Who has liability for failures in these very complex meshes of computations?

In terms of privacy, how will lawyers help draft privacy agreements in an age when surveillance is the service? Will we get to a time when we, as a society, change the expectations of privacy?

There are contractual issues as well. Contracts need to be written between all of the players in this system. And the companies that are developing partnerships are not between the same partners in the past.

In terms of intellectual property law, what if I learn new things from your data and patent the findings? Do I really own this?

But let’s not forget evidence! If you have it, lawyers will try to subpoena. And it won’t be in criminal trials alone. This evidence will also appear in civil lawsuits. Think again how ignorant it would be if a lawyer subpoenas “any and all data” from an entirely connected system.

Techno-speak can be off-putting. But so can legal-speak. Hopefully, this article gives lawyers an understanding of the next technological movement, called fog computing, so they can better prepare for the whirlwind soon to come.

Special thanks to Matt Vasey at Microsoft (@mvasey) and with the Open Fog Consortium (@openfog) for helping me out with this article.

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