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The Role Of Distributed Cloud Computing In the Enterprise

5 minute read
David Roe avatar
Distributed cloud computing is gaining traction in the digital workplace as more workers are forced to work from home. Here’s why.

As the pressure to provide tools and applications to enable workers to carry out their daily tasks remotely grows, organizations have started to look at all the computing options available, including cloud computing.

Even though cloud computing can be expensive, it does offer flexibility that on-premise systems do not and can be scaled up or down depending on need.

The Different Flavors of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing, though, has a few different flavors. For some companies hybrid computing is the way forward. Hybrid computing refers to a mixed computing, storage and services environment made up of on-premise infrastructure, private cloud services and a public cloud, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure, with orchestration among the various platforms.

While this kind of computing solves many problems, it doesn’t solve all. Not the least of the problems is location and the accompanying issues of data governance and compliance created by new regulatory regimes, particularly in Europe, that require organizations to store citizens' data inside the borders of specific geographies.

There are two other kinds of cloud computing that are coming into their own in this context. The first is distributed cloud computing and the second is edge computing:

  1. Distributed cloud: Distributed computing is almost as old as computing itself. Distributed cloud is a bit different and refers to the distribution of public cloud services to different physical locations while the operation, governance, updates and evolution of the services are the responsibility of the originating public cloud provider. It uses cloud computing technologies to interconnect data and applications served from multiple geographic locations. Distributed, in an information technology (IT) context, means that something is shared among multiple systems which may also be in different locations.
  2. Edge computing: The word edge in this context refers to geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that is done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work.

Distributed cloud computing is the first cloud model that incorporates physical location of cloud-delivered services as part of its definition. Historically, location has not been relevant to cloud computing definitions.

Related Article: A Cost-Cutting Cloud Optimization Strategy for Your Skyrocketing Cloud Bills 

Infrastructure Spreads Across Multiple Environments

Because of the growing adoption of modular, microservice-based software development, coupled with data-driven technologies such as artificial intelligence and IoT, applications and their supporting infrastructure are getting increasingly spread across multiple clouds and hybrid cloud environments, said Ankur Singla is the founder and CEO of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Volterra.

This trend is a sharp division from traditional computing environments where organizations rely primarily on individual clouds or legacy data centers. Unfortunately, many IT teams today struggle to develop and deploy modern, dispersed apps in an agile, secure and cost-effective model. Distributed cloud enables organizations to manage disparate app and infrastructure components as one logical cloud.

"Distributed cloud mitigates the operational and security challenges of distributed workloads, as organizations can deploy multiple apps or app components with a common set of policies and overarching visibility across varied locations and heterogeneous infrastructure using a cloud-native model," Singla said.

With a distributed cloud approach, enterprises and service providers can better manage, secure and deploy their microservices and container-based workloads. Early adopters of this new approach include organizations in markets like financial services, telecom, e-commerce, retail, healthcare and manufacturing.

Related Article: Why Digital Workplace Growth Will Push Cloud Spending in Coming Years

Learning Opportunities

Diversifying the Cloud Brings Flexibility

The biggest advantage of the distributed cloud for an organization is that it helps corporations to diversify and still personalize their cloud strategy, said Shayne Sherman, CEO of Brookline, Mass.-based Techloris.

The distributed cloud also allows companies to select and choose the multiple capabilities of different cloud providers and solutions to align with their specific business needs. Distributed cloud gives companies the ability to choose different cloud providers, solutions and infrastructures depending upon the type of applications they want to address.

“While organizations want to make this shift, they also need to prepare," Sherman said. "They will need to make changes to the existing infrastructure to create robust connectivity between different modules of the cloud environment."

The Emerging Architecture of Cloud Computing

So where does that leave cloud computing? Cloud was initially appealing because of the on-demand provisioning of computing resources (CPU, RAM and disk) with support for global services needed to run a data center such as DNS, load balancing, security services and others, said Jiten Vaidya, CEO of Mountain View, Calif.-based PlanetScale. The cloud providers shifted the location of physical infrastructure into regions and availability zones.

Over time, as enterprises became proficient at provisioning and deploying services using cloud APIs, they realized the value of using these uniform ways of deploying and managing resources for applications and infrastructure that was traditionally managed by enterprises in locations away from the centralized data centers.

Cloud providers rolled out service offerings, such as Google Anthos and AWS Outposts, which allow enterprises to use familiar APIs and services at data centers not owned by the enterprises. These offerings also extend to edge locations such as telecom providers or retail locations. Distributed cloud is roughly a collection of computing resources managed by cloud provider APIs but located in data centers owned by cloud providers as well as enterprises, either centrally located or at the edge.

These trends mesh well with the modern JAM (Javascript, API, markup) stack developer frameworks. Using these frameworks, developers can build applications that can be built and deployed to content delivery networks or the edge. Kubernetes, which has emerged as the de facto operating system for computing resources, has accelerated these trends. 

“The availability of modern transactional databases that run on Kubernetes and allow you to easily deploy replicas at edge locations also help with this emerging architecture,” Vaidya said.

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