December 8, 2022

Realizing the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Realizing the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Realizing the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Phil Marshall, Director of Research at Vapor IO

The OGA is heavily focused on reimagining the Internet. How do you envision the Internet evolving over the next 10 years?

The Internet started gaining traction in the 1990s when I was a graduate engineering student. At the time, we used the Internet to communicate with students from other universities via Unix command line editors. I vividly remember the day I received my first email at home and the first time I used a web browser. I was in awe of the new tools at our fingertips on both occasions. Although it was impossible to see precisely how the Internet would evolve in the subsequent ten years into the early 2000s and the following decade, it became clear the Internet’s future depended on the digital appetites of its consumer, enterprise, and public service users. These appetites drove demand for connectivity and communications, infotainment, and productivity tools, which underpin the current Internet architecture. Likewise, the future Internet must anticipate the evolving digital appetites of its users in critical areas, such as autonomous systems, extended and augmented reality, digital twins, and surveillance and command and control systems. These create unique Internet design requirements, including:

  • Geographically distributed computing resources to augment traditional architectures and match service demands. In particular, traditional architectures place computing at the ecosystem peripheries (i.e., cloud and on-premise servers and end-point devices). As a result, they cannot support the local computing requirements for many emerging services.
  • Agile and scalable network resources to support diverse connectivity and bandwidth demands. Particularly in middle and last-mile environments, where distributed computing architectures are needed.
  • Integration and orchestration amongst heterogeneous, historically incompatible, and siloed ecosystems. Notable examples include factory and industrial equipment and networking infrastructure.
  • Flexible data and compute workload management capabilities to economically meet performance and security demands, particularly as business and mission-critical services become more prevalent and; 
  • Resource slicing/partitioning for service level alignment. For example, an autonomous vehicle might require six-nines reliability for mission-critical control functions and best-effort performance for advanced media services in the same vehicle.

As a society, we’re built and heavily reliant on digital services. What are some of the new applications you see emerging, and how does the Internet need to evolve to meet those?

At the risk of sounding cliché, we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), heralding unprecedented cyber-physical convergence. As with all revolutions, 4IR is the culmination of tremendous innovation across many domains. These innovations include network technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, sensor technologies and autonomous systems, machine instrumentation and IoT, material science and energy storage, additive manufacturing, data management, and the list goes on.

 The future Internet must absorb and capitalize on these capabilities to enable the cyber-physically converged services contemplated by 4IR, such as autonomous systems, extended and augmented reality, digital twins, and surveillance and command and control systems discussed above.

 Many enterprise digital transformation strategies already struggle to keep pace with market demands using on-premise computing equipment. This is driving strong demand for cloud-based consumption models, which will continue to accelerate as the world continues to march towards 4IR.

Why push forward with the grid versus focusing solely on the edge? What role will the Grid play in 5-10 years, and how does the edge fit?

The edge is only part of the solution and is relatively loosely defined. For example, an end-point device manufacturer might describe onboard device memory, computing, and connectivity as edge computing. Some service providers and internet exchanges identify edge computing in their data centers with low-latency (northbound) cloud connectivity. These vastly different versions of the ‘edge’ and others will coexist in the future Internet. The grid delivers a high-performance meshed network and distributed computing environment to bring heterogeneous edges together with each other and with the cloud. Grid services can orchestrate different edge and cloud resources for optimal performance, with the flexibility to adapt in real-time to changing service demands and economic constraints.


What industries do you think will benefit most from the Grid, and why are they important for a better tomorrow?

We need to distinguish between services enhanced by the Grid (i.e. Grid-Enhanced services) and services that depend on the Grid to function (i.e. Grid-Native services). Today we are focused primarily on Grid-Enhanced services, but in the future, these will be eclipsed by  Grid-Native services as the market matures. The industries best positioned to capitalize on Grid-Enhanced services are those with on-premise workloads that cannot be migrated to the cloud, but can be migrated to near-premise On-Grid compute resources. Notable examples include

  • Retailers for surveillance, inventory management, loss prevention, and point-of-sale (POS) use-cases.
  • Manufacturers and warehouse and logistics companies for surveillance, robotics, internal supply chain optimization, machine condition monitoring, and predictive maintenance, and operational control
  • Smart Cities for public safety, healthcare, transportation, education, hospitality and tourism, and sustainability use cases.
  • Automotive to support connected vehicles with increased autonomy and sophistication.
  • Communication service providers as they migrate to virtualized network architectures and respond to private networking opportunities.
  • Hospitals for surveillance, digital record management, robotics, medical imaging, connected device management, and disaster recovery.
  • Hotels, convention centers, and stadiums for surveillance, automated customer care, and augmented interactive services.

Grid-native services are more difficult to predict, but I expect that consumer-orientated use cases will ultimately dominate, primarily because of the scale of the consumer market. This will benefit consumer electronics companies, service providers, and companies supporting the underlying ecosystem for consumer services.

How does your company’s mission and services fit with the Open Grid Alliance?

Vapor IO is working with its partners and the Open Grid Alliance to support the buildout of the Grid.

No one company can pull all the pieces together to enable the Grid. Instead, the Grid depends on the collaboration of many companies to foster a rich ecosystem that aligns with market demands. The Open Grid Alliance provides an ideal platform to enable this collaboration.

Why are you passionate about the Grid?

The Grid is defining the future of the Internet and is at the heart of 4IR. In many respects, it takes me back to my early days in the mobile industry when we were rolling out analog (1G) and the first digital (2G) networks. We knew we were part of something big and could see the hockey stick on the horizon.

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