Machine Safety: We haven’t finished assessing cloud computing; here comes the fog

Cloud computing has been discussed by all the big guys (Microsoft, Apple, Cisco Systems, IBM, Google, Facebook, HP, Sony, etc.) for several years. Some suppliers have already developed hardware products that only store data in “the cloud.” And, machine safety experts have begun assessing how, or even if, “the cloud” can play any role in providing machine safety.

By JB Titus July 8, 2014

Microsoft, Apple, Cisco Systems, IBM, Google, Facebook, HP, Sony, and other "big guys" have been talking about cloud computing for several years. Some suppliers have already developed hardware products that only store data in “the cloud.” And, machine safety experts have begun assessing how, or even if, the cloud can play any role in providing machine safety. So, what is this noise about “the Fog”?

Cloud computing advantages, risk

Cloud computing and data storage have distinctively significant advantages as the world grows more data centric. One major advantage of the cloud is to push one company’s data and software into some other company’s data center. This advantage certainly addresses a data center’s efficiencies and capacity issues cost effectively. However, a company’s costs could sky rocket if a cloud based data center is disrupted. I suspect that these and other issues are still in the process of being worked on as well as the development of any safeguarding designs as required by IEC 61508-1 for any potential machine safety-related functions. It’s my opinion that, as a minimum, any role performed by the cloud in supporting machine safety applications will require compliance to IEC 61508-1 and perhaps other safety standards also.

What is “the Fog”?

On May 18, The Wall Street Journal published an article; "Forget ‘the Cloud;’ Computing’s Future Lies in ‘the Fog,’" written by Christopher Mims. Mr. Mims’ article does a good job of describing the fog based in part around a limiting factor of “the Cloud” being 3G and 4G networks. This discussion boils down to a term called bandwidth, which is a significant limitation for “big data.” Essentially, a computing fog is cloud computing close to the ground. Mims describes the fog as follows: “Stop focusing on the cloud, and start figuring out how to store and process the torrent of data being generated by the Internet of Things (also known as the Industrial Internet) on the things themselves, or on devices that sit between our things and the Internet.” He goes on to describe more details, yet this is a convenient spot to address machine safety. We have today a rapidly growing presence of smart devices inside the walls of manufacturing. Such devices as; cableless operator panels, tablets, smart phones, lap top computers, wireless sensors… and many more.

Cloud, fog, and safety

Some of these devices already have safety devices and/or safety functions. All of these smart devices can be considered members of the Internet of things. They have computing capability, and they are targets of inclusion (my words) in the fog. It makes sense for the fog (as with the cloud to be compliant with relevant safety design standards for use in machine safety-related functions?

Now, big thinkers as we are, consider the cloud and the fog as community versus autonomous. My investigation into these developments reveals that the fog is actually an extension of the cloud, a place where time-sensitive data storage, computing and networking can occur without burdening the processing of big data in the data centers within the cloud. Therefore, it makes sense that machine safety-related functions should evolve over time as part of these new developments. This could present challenges and opportunities.

How do you think cloud or fog-based resources can augment machine safety? Do you have questions about machine safety for future blog posts? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.

Related articles:

Machine Safety: enhanced safety networks, the Internet of things, and autonomous safety

Forget “the Cloud;” Computing’s Future Lies in “the Fog,” written by Christopher Mims, The Wall Street Journal

Fog Computing and Its Role in the Internet of Things, written by Flavio Bonomi, Rodolfo Milito, Jiang Zhu and Sateesh Addepalli, Cisco Systems Inc.

Machine Safety: Industry 4.0 and how it could impact machine safety

See an additional Control Engineering article about fog computing, linked below.

Contact: for “Solutions for Machine Safety.”