When it comes to the Internet of Things, connectivity is the name of the game.

Connectivity is, in fact, the appeal of a related technology that could represent another evolution in the same vein as the cloud. In fact, it even has a similar weather-based name to go along with it.

In terms of purpose, this new concept, dubbed “fog computing,” is essentially identical to the cloud; it is still intended to allow users to store and retrieve files without the need for a costly server infrastructure. However, the difference lies in the way the data is handled. Fog computing creates a “fog” of data; scattered packets that don’t contain the whole of any file.

This approach makes it much more difficult for attackers to steal information. Any attempts to retrieve files illegitimately only allow for access to one part of the data, giving attackers a garbled, incomplete mess. This is because, unlike cloud computing, fog computing involves a network of smaller servers, called fog nodes, that distribute packets of data. Nowhere in the fog network is any file stored in its entirety.

The other advantage of fog computing is that the decentralized fog nodes enable data to be closer to the businesses that need to access it. The disadvantage of the cloud is that data still has to travel from servers to wherever it’s needed, reducing performance. Fog computing bypasses some of these concerns and enables faster data retrieval. In fog computing, data centers are smaller, easier to place, and ideally as widespread as possible.

In fact, some fog nodes are so small that they can be placed anywhere that they can connect to the network. Power poles, vehicles, and even oil rigs can host fog nodes and widen the network. Ideally, fog-enabled devices are situated at the edge, right where data is needed immediately. With this larger, less centralized network, doors open to monitor new types of data, particularly as it relates to machine to machine communications. Fog computing allows data to be analyzed and acted upon in seconds.

It’s the ideal marriage of the cloud and the Internet of Things, two concepts that have gained a lot of ground among technology and data experts in the last several years. Cloud computing, though certainly a disruptive technology, has faced scrutiny for the security issues associated with sending raw data over the Internet, particularly if sensitive data is subject to regulation. Its fog-based counterpart offers an approximation of cloud capabilities with the accessibility of IoT devices.

However, the cloud is not going away anytime soon. Fog computing is a great complement to the cloud, but does not process massive amounts of historical data the same way that the cloud does. Plus, with fog computing being an emerging technology, its capabilities may not surpass the cloud in many cases. For now, it offers businesses the opportunity to improve their data infrastructure without replacing any cloud services they might already be using.

In the future, we will see fog computing delivering valuable data that can help make business and technology more efficient and interconnected. The OpenFog Consortium is a collaboration between a number of high profile organizations, including Intel, Cisco, and Microsoft, with the intent of promoting widespread fog computing usage. After all, like other IoT devices, fog computing becomes much more effective the more devices that are integrated into the network.