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Blockchain between edge and fog computing

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 13 februari 2018

Ben van Lier
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines autonomy as “the quality or state of being self-governing or the right of self-government”. The autonomy of physical devices is growing as they converge with software and are connected in networks through new combinations of hardware and software. Interconnection in networks enables such cyber-physical systems to communicate and interact with each other. Such communication and interaction, in turn, makes it possible for these systems to develop self-configuring, self-optimising, self-protecting and self-healing capabilities. When combined, these capabilities give cyber-physical systems great autonomy in the performance of their tasks.

The core of blockchain technology consists in cyber-physical systems’ ability to autonomously and jointly make decisions about the execution of transactions based on voting and consensus algorithms. An algorithm is, as Steiner put it, basically a set of instructions “to be carried out perfunctorily to achieve an ideal result”. As the (industrial) internet of things continues to develop, more and more cyber-physical systems are interconnected in networks at great pace. From a centralist perspective, these cyber-physical systems are placed on the edge of the network, which has led to the term edge computing.

To bridge the gap between the central cloud and the decentralised cyber-physical systems on the edge, the concept of fog computing has emerged. What is interesting is whether blockchain technology and the algorithms used for it are able to operate between the existing centralist perspective of cloud computing and the more decentralised perspective of the (industrial) internet of things. At the same time, the question arises whether the blockchain would then be contributing to increasing the autonomy in the execution of tasks by groups of cyber-physical systems on the edge of the network.

Internet of Things

In 2014, Samsung Electronics and IBM developed a proof of concept focused on increasing the autonomy of devices or machines that operate in a decentralised manner within the (industrial) internet of things . For their pilot, they used a Samsung washing machine (W9000). According to Samsung and IBM, these kinds of consumer appliances will increasingly be hooked up to networks such as the internet of things and will perform information transactions in electronic marketplaces and other environments in an increasingly autonomous and self-managed fashion.

The information transactions performed by these devices can, for example, consist in them autonomously ordering detergent or spare parts, negotiating with the electricity company about power supply, or showing adverts on the washing machine’s display. To enable devices to do these kinds of things, the project focused on peer-to-peer messaging, distributed file sharing and autonomous device coordination. The software and protocols used for the latter functionality were borrowed from Ethereum. These protocols were needed for the project to, among other things, be able to register and authenticate the various devices in the network, as well as for the agreements and checklists between the devices and the consensus-based rules of engagement. The ADEPT project has led to a pilot of a blockchain of devices, where devices work together autonomously and make decisions about tasks or orders, etcetera. The approach of linking these devices using blockchain technology also further increases these devices’ level of autonomy. Software developed as part of the ADEPT project was later used as the basis for the development of Hyperledger fabric.

Edge and fog computing

Edge computing is a new computer paradigm where, according to Satyanarayanan “substantial computing and storage resources – variously referred to as cloudlets, micro datacenters, or fog nodes – are placed at the Internet’s edge in close proximity to mobile devices or sensors”. The growing number of devices that are interconnected in networks such as the internet of things or the industrial internet of things, such as the washing machines in the above example, produce ever greater volumes of data and information that have to be processed and analysed. All this data and information enables these devices to operate autonomously and to perform their activities on their own or jointly.

Due to the fact that the number of decentralised and autonomously operating devices is increasing rapidly, we need real-time sharing and storage of the data and information they use. According to Cisco , the current cloud computing models are, however, not designed to be able to handle “the volume, variety, and velocity of data that the Internet of Things generates”. This development requires, in the view of Cisco, a new kind of infrastructure that is better positioned for the devices on the edge, and this new infrastructure is what they refer to as ‘fog computing.’

Cisco believes that fog computing can create an intermediate layer between the centralised cloud infrastructure and the devices on the edge of the internet. Dastjerdi and Buyya defined fog computing as “a distributed paradigm that provides cloud-like services to the network edge”. In their view, fog computing basically takes care of “deals with IoT data locally by utilizing clients or edge devices near users to carry out a substantial amount of storage, communication control, configuration and management. The approach benefits from edge devices close proximity to sensors, while leveraging the on demand scalability of cloud resources”. Bonomi et al described fog computing as a highly virtualised platform that can provide “compute, storage and networking services between end devices and traditional Cloud Computing Data Centers, typically, but not exclusively located at the edge of the network”.

These new concepts are making it clear that thinking merely in terms of central concepts, such as cloud computing, will come up short in the long term, as interconnected devices on the edge of the network will be producing huge volumes of data and information that need to be processed, analysed and stored. Between the entirely decentralised and autonomously operating devices and the centralised operating cloud, new facilities will have to arise, such as fog computing, that will have to be able, according to Dastjerdi and Buyya, “to support the decentralized and intelligent processing of unprecedented data volumes generated by IoT sensors deployed for smooth integration of physical and cyber elements”.

Conclusion

Bieler (2016) argued that both the internet of things and blockchain technology are based on “decentralized, distributed approaches”. According to him, the decentralised and autonomously operating systems in the (industrial) internet of things need direct mutual communication and interaction “rather than via existing centralized models”. Kranz (2017) pointed out that, in the development of the (industrial) internet of things, a blockchain can help “secure, audit-level tracking of IoT data transactions, eliminating the need for a central, trusted intermediary between communicating devices”. Given the basic features of blockchain technology, i.e. fault-tolerant communication, a distributed ledger, voting and consensus combined with execution protocols, blockchain technology could be used to lay a secure and reliable foundation for the regulation of data and information transactions between autonomously operating devices on the edge and decentralised fog units of the central cloud infrastructure. Blockchain technology can thus make rules that enable decentralised, autonomous and jointly operating systems to decide and regulate for themselves on what conditions they can provide their data and information, as well as where, how and to whom.

  1. Steiner, C. (2013) Automate This. How Algorithms Took Over Our Markets, Our Jobs, and the World. Portfolio / Penguin, London, UK. ISBN 9781591846529
  2. IBM (2015) Empowering the Edge. Practical Insights on a Decentralized Internet of Things. IBM Institute for Business Value
  3. Satyanarayanan, M. (2017) The Emergence of Edge Computing. Computer, Volume, 50, Issue, 1, Jan. 2017. Pp. 30-39
  4. Cisco Whitepaper (2015) Fog Computing and the Internet of Things: Extend the Cloud to Where the Things Are
  5. Dastjerdi, V. and Buyya, R. (2016) Fog Computing: Helping the IoT Realize Its Potential. Computer, Volume 49, Issue 8, Aug. 2016. Pp. 112-116
  6. Bonomi, F., Milito, R., Zhu, J. and Addepalli, S. (2012) Fog Computing and Its Role in the Internet of Things. Cisco Systems Inc. Report. August 2012
  7. Bieler, D. (2016) Blockchain’s Potential For IoT Solutions. Forrester / Blog: Blockchain’s Potential For IoT Solutions
  8. Kranz, M. (2017) In 2018, Get Ready for the Convergence of IoT, AI, Fog and Blockchain. RT Insights, 27 December 2017 https://www.rtinsights.com/in-2018-get-ready-for-the-convergence-of-iot-ai-fog-and-blockchain/

Tags:Blockchain

     
Reacties
  • http://crbtech.in/DBA/fog-computing-new-startups/
    amar
    27 maart 2018
    We get to read some information on the edge and fog computing and the block chain technology between the two.It was nice reading.
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