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IoT driving computing power back out to the network edge

Stuart Corner | Nov. 9, 2016
Thoughtworks’ ‘head of things’ on the growth of fog computing.

According to Matt Henshall, the 'head of things' at global software development company Thoughtworks, the Internet of Things is reversing to some extent the trend of recent years of moving processing power to the cloud and instead distributing it at the edge.

"Corporates are only just getting used to the idea of having the cloud but now those of us ahead of developments are saying we need to distribute some of that power to the edge, and that is going to be an interesting challenge," Henshall toldComputerworld.

"As more devices are connected to the Internet there will be a shift to edge computing, sometimes called fog computing." (Fog computing is a term invented by Cisco that is now gaining wide acceptance following the formation of the Open Fog Consortium, with the backing of a number of major vendors.)

Henshall took on the role of head of things with Thoughtworks based in San Francisco in February 2015 after three years as CTO of Australian smart home and environment IoT company, Environexus. He told Computerworld that his role was to bring a perspective on IoT to Thoughtworks and its clients.

New processors for edge computing

He said the move to edge computing was being accelerated by the development of new low cost, high power processors.

"The new Nvidia SoC has a massive parallel computing core and a very significant ARM based microcontroller at a very low power and low price that allows you to do things at the edge that you would expect to need to have a fully fledged computer or send it to the cloud to be processed," Henshall said.

"I think things like image recognition and spatial interaction will be the initial drive to that much higher quality edge computing, and I think software will lag a bit behind that: how do we deal with massive quantities of data at the edge and either process that data or decide to offload it. Those techniques are going to come and there will be unlimited opportunities there."

Computerworld spoke to Henshall on the day that Intel announced its new IoT processors, the Atom 3900 series, with significantly greater power than the previous Atom 3800 series. Ken Caviasca, general manager of Intel's IoT platform engineering team, told a press briefing on the new processors that they had been designed both of smart things and for edge computing roles: video cameras with inbuilt image analysis capabilities, and real-time control of factory automation systems.

The real world mirrored in the digital

Henshall said the world was moving towards a situation where the physical world would be closely mirrored in the virtual world.

"Google calls it the physical web - the idea that everything around us also has a digital footprint in the virtual world, and that is where it is going," he explained.


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