By F. Scott Moody, Co-Founder & CEO, K4Connect: March 8, 2017.
I know what you’re thinking, “why should I care about an article like this when it comes to my communities and what the heck is fog architecture”. Well, it’s actually very important and nothing made that more obvious than the Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage last week as thousands of websites, systems and entire companies came to a screeching halt.
Before I argue why this is critically relevant to your communities and your company, let me first start with a few definitions and explanations. First, I’m sure you’ve heard of “cloud computing” – something that has been all the rage the last few years but has been around for a few decades now. Cloud computing became an “overnight success” as computing and storage costs plummeted and communication bandwidth/capacity sky-rocketed in the last few years. As a result, it often now makes sense to outsource these functions to others who drive scale by building giant computing centers, stuffed with thousands of servers. An example of a common current cloud-based solution is an EMR (electronic medical record) where this is no hardware or enterprise software installation, but a secure and up-to-date software system accessible from anywhere. Other benefits from cloud solutions can include reducing implementation costs and better IT support service. Yet, while moving key computing & information storage tasks to the cloud makes complete sense for lots of things, it doesn’t always make sense for everything. This is particularly true in situations where immediate action is required and/or when those functions need to continue to operate even when the internet (or your connection to it) is down. And while the AWS situation is certainly not a common occurrence, we have all [too often] experienced how fickle Wi-Fi/internet systems can be whether in our homes or at our place of business.
So, back to the question “How does this impact me and my communities?”
First, for those systems or devices that are dependent on the cloud, the reality is that they cease to operate when the “internet” is down (used loosely, the “internet” is meant to mean the whole of the community Wi-Fi system, the cloud hosting environment and any of the myriad of connections between the two). If any part of this system-to-the-cloud functionality is down, your system is also down.
Second, the fact is that there can be a latency (lag) that can last tens of seconds between the system/device calling for an action and the action occurring. Take for example the simple “process” of turning on a “smart” light, one that is supposed to turn on when a resident is getting out of bed. Having that light turn on 20-30 seconds later than expected, frankly, is not really of much value.
This is where EDGE computing and the FOG architecture shine. Edge processing means just that, putting at least some of the computing smarts at the “edge”; your resident’s apartment in this case. This technical capability is not unique to home automation or your community, you see it, for example, in autonomous vehicles. New cars today (and more so in the future) are packed with lots of processing power right in the car. Thus, when that car needs to make a critical decision, like not hitting another car, one cannot depend (more like hope) on “cloud connectivity” at that very moment. These kinds of lags, or lack of connectivity, are simply not acceptable in certain situations in your community. The good news is that with processing costs dramatically down, you can put some pretty powerful processing capabilities directly in the apartment. And the benefits? If designed correctly, the system is aware of the status of every system and smart device at any instant, thereby not only eliminating the latencies mentioned, but also capable of operating even when the “internet” is down.
However, in some instances – especially if the task requires significant computing power and there is no need for “immediacy” – the cloud is the more appropriate solution. For example, when looking at patterns of daily living that may lead to improved care for your residents, it makes all kinds of sense to run these kinds of deep analytics in the cloud. And thus, the term “Fog” is born, as the system is designed to operate using both edge and cloud computing, like a fog, from the ground to the sky.
At K4Connect, we are big believers in this kind of architecture. It’s why we build all our products, including K4Community, based on our patented K/Platform and why we work closely with technology investment partners such as Intel. It allows us to bring the best computing power to bear for those we serve, both at the edge and in the cloud. The fact is that we have a great deal of redundancy built into our system, with information and applications all continually replicated and backed up at both the edge (in your resident’s apartment) and in the cloud. In fact, the K4Control box in each room allows us to cache (store) information locally, so that your resident’s daily life isn’t interrupted (whether viewing the dining menu or signing up for a social event) even if the “internet” is down.
Bringing all these “connected” things together, as K4Community does, is not easy. Sure, it’s an easy and compelling story to tell, but it is the technology that makes the story real. I’ve always believed that technology matters, otherwise, it’s just a story….