Sunday, 3 August 2014

Fog Computing

Recently Cisco is promoting a new term, Fog Computing. It's the application of cloud (IaaS) terms "to the edge of the network", incorporating ideas such as CDN, SDN, IoT and BaaS.

In building architecture, this convergence between what they call public and private space is much discussed and a main feature of contemporary buildings, for instance the Blur Building which has fog instead of a boundary, or edge for the sake of the argument:
Diller & Scofidio Blur Building
(c) Diller & Scofidio at Designboom
What began as the discussion about buildings that have a flexible interior but a very clear, black box, exterior in Learning from Las Vegas, has moved towards a view of information flows alongside people flows in cities (see Trüby, Lynch or the Quantum City). The bottom line is: From the smallest spatial piece of information, where we are located, how we experience space, to the urban landscape, evolving over time, the same patterns emerge. There is no clear distinction between inside and outside, static and dynamic, it's a Matryoshka that unfolds in different speeds.

Building up on the currently ongoing Microservice discussion this means Microservices, or Fog Computing, won't solve the complexity. They are just in the same state as OOP, CASE Tools or Dynamic Languages were in the beginning - before they hit the Norris wall. Our systems will grow in complexity, and while it's great not to have to worry about heterogeneous platforms, we need to understand them nevertheless. Scalability concepts still need to be understood from the bottom up, in combination with the real world problems they are trying to solve. They can be masked away by high-speed data synchronization concepts between devices and algorithms, but eventually they will pop up as technical debt, when change happens. It's the story of the magic Excel Sheet - which turns into Software and then back. Just like a Matryoshka.

The Blur building was not really comfortable, it's pretty wet. Many edgy contemporary buildings with "Open Space" concepts are also not comfortable. They seem to give maximum flexibility in a simple concept but actually are just a mask around technical debt. Which is fine as long as it's clear to the user. It won't make IT easier or more commoditized, in fact it promotes the opposite: Having to pay for highly specialized experts when you can't go back and are stuck with a tool that once seemed easy enough. In the past this situation occurred as well, but it was covered with new needs for client-server systems, GUI's, the Internet, Mobile and Omnichannel. If there is no new paradigm around the corner many users will sooner or later realize the technical debt they finally have to solve.

Let's see which technologies will be chosen then, when they finally need to be harmonized with real change - when the users realize they work for the computers. I hope it's simple components, that need a fair bit of understanding - and not oversimplified magic bullets. The more important change in IT should be a culture that embraces problem solving, diversity and organization rather than fancy facades.

The Next Challenge of the Web is Us
Christian Heilmann