A Foggy Marketplace of Clouds

Businesses of all sizes are successful when they can focus on their core competencies, and for most businesses information technology (IT) is not a core competency. Small and medium businesses (SMBs) also face the added challenge of limited budgets and IT staff. “The shift to cloud computing,” John Mason recently posted, offers SMBs “unprecedented access to the benefits of technology as a service without having to invest significant time or capital in the technology itself, allowing them to focus on innovations in their core business.”

“Midsize firms are increasingly employing cloud services,” Marissa Tejada recently blogged. “The combination of new pricing and the latest cloud services innovations are creating an overall advantage for growing firms. With the cloud, they can advance their applications, increase productivity, and accelerate business goals.”

“While the last several years can best be characterized as exploratory for most enterprises,” James Staten of Forrester Research recently blogged, “cloud services and cloud platforms are now an undeniable part of the IT landscape.” Forrester estimates the cloud market will climb to $191 billion by 2020. “The economic model of cloud computing,” Staten explained, “yields greater efficiencies through shared consumption, pay-per-use pricing, and volume economics. It will increasingly be difficult to justify not leveraging cloud services. As the largest clouds continue to invest in efficiencies that can only be achieved at their massive scales, the gulf between the cost efficiencies that can be had from the cloud and what is possible on-premise or through other outsourcing and hosting options will widen dramatically. And as clouds deliver a growth proliferation of services, components, and applications that accelerate new business service creation, their appeal will widen further.”

With the IT marketplace becoming more cloud-covered, Robert LeBlanc recently covered the new IBM Cloud Marketplace that’s designed “to be a compelling destination for business leaders, IT managers and application developers to visit—via their PCs, tablets or smartphones—and find solutions to their business and technology needs.”

“I’m as big a believer in the transformational power of cloud computing as anyone you’ll meet,” Christopher Mims wrote in his Wall Street Journal article. “Smartphones, which are constantly seeking and retrieving data, don’t make sense without the cloud, and any business that isn’t racing to push its data and software into someone else’s data center is, in my view, setting itself up for disruption by a competitor who is.”

However, this doesn’t mean the cloud’s future is filled with only big blue skies. “The problem is bandwidth,” Mims explained. “If you’re a company simply seeking to save the cost and headache of storing data yourself, the cloud is great as long as all you need to do is transfer data back and forth via high-speed wiring. But in the world of mass connectivity—in which people need to get information on an array of mobile devices—bandwidth is pretty slow.”

To address this issue a new term, coined by Cisco Systems, is on the rise: fog computing. As Mims explains it, “whereas the cloud is up there in the sky somewhere, distant and remote and deliberately abstracted, the fog is close to the ground, right where things are getting done. It consists not of powerful servers, but weaker and more dispersed computers of the sort that are making their way into appliances, factories, cars, street lights and every other piece of our material culture.”

As Mims noted, IBM has a similar initiative using the term edge computing to describe pushing computing out to “the edge of the network, the periphery where the Internet ends and the real world begins. Data centers are in the center of the network, personal computers, phones, and surveillance cameras are on the edge. Just as the cloud physically consists of servers harnessed together, in IBM’s research project, the fog consists of all the computers that are already around us, tied together. On one level, asking our smart devices to, for example, send software updates to one another, rather than routing them through the cloud, could make the fog a direct rival to the cloud for some functions.”

“The future of much enterprise computing remains in the cloud,” Mims concluded, “but the really transformative computing of the future? It’s going to happen right here, in the objects that surround us—in the fog.”


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.


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