Cisco is fortunate to have technical leaders who are helping to shape the industry approach to emerging technologies such as fog computing. I’m pleased to have as a guest blogger Chuck Byers, senior software engineering lead in Cisco’s Enterprise Networking IoT Engineering group. As co-chair of the Architecture Framework Working Group and Technical Committee of the OpenFog Consortium, Chuck has been instrumental in creating a cohesive industry-wide approach to fog technology.
As the marketplace ponders how best to incorporate fog computing into the Internet of Things (IoT), one of the most important challenges we face is figuring out exactly how fog will be used. Studying potential use cases is a great mechanism to refine requirements, understand architecture, and ultimately demonstrate the value of fog to customers.
Actually, “use cases” is sort of an imprecise term, and I would like to propose a taxonomy that we can apply to more precisely understand how fog—and really any IoT capability—can be employed. This taxonomy has three levels: verticals, use cases, and applications.
Verticals are broad areas of the entire IoT marketplace. They are often related to industry segments, or network domains, or specific classes of users. In some companies, specific departments, development teams or sales forces are dedicated to individual verticals, often with highly specialized domain knowledge. Most verticals have unique regulatory environments, their own sets of standards, legacy policies, specialized procedures and their favorite protocols in widespread use. Here are some of the verticals that are especially important to IoT and fog:
- Transportation / Logistics
- Utilities / Energy
- Smart Cities / Smart Buildings
- Retail / Enterprise / Hospitality
- Service Providers / Data Centers
- Oil / Gas / Mining
- Government / Military
- Residential / Consumer
- Wearables / Ubiquitous Computing
Use cases are the next layer down in the taxonomy. Use cases subdivide each vertical into segments that can often be served by a single IoT platform. For example, in the transportation vertical, there may be use cases related to smart highways, autonomous road vehicles, smart railways, maritime, drones, and many others. There may be more IoT network interaction between use cases within a single vertical than there is between the verticals. A company that develops expertise in providing fog hardware or software for a particular use case in a vertical can often leverage that expertise to effectively go after another use case in the same vertical.
Applications are the final layer of this taxonomy. They represent very specific hardware/software solutions, providing specific IoT capabilities that customers are willing to pay for. Going back to our transportation vertical example of the smart railway use case, some applications that could be included could be: Positive Train Control (PTC) safety systems, scheduling and dispatch, energy/fuel optimization, passenger comfort and entertainment, cargo tracking, signaling, and crew communications. Railways may want to install a selected subset of these applications on their fog network, perhaps getting the application software from multiple suppliers and changing it frequently. Applications can be the foundation of an emerging marketplace for fog, providing a commercial model similar to the iTunes App Store or Google Play, but with a focus on IoT and fog apps. As this application marketplace develops, third party developers with specialized domain experience should begin to drive the exponential growth in IoT and fog software.
Putting it all together, the taxonomy suggested above is a great way for us to organize our thinking about how IoT networks will use fog. Ideally, the fog nodes and networks we are building should be versatile enough to serve most of the verticals from the above list, and most of the use cases in each vertical, and the wide spectrum of applications serving each use case. The OpenFog Consortium is hard at work enabling this vision. We have published a series of detailed use cases representing a sampling of key verticals. They can be downloaded at www.openfogconsortium.org/resources/#use-cases. We have extracted a long list of normative requirements from these use cases, and are using these to drive the next generation refinement of the OpenFog architecture. Expect more publications from OpenFog in the coming months.