Regardless of how familiar we are with the ins and outs of how the cloud works, it’s certainly a term and concept many of us are familiar with. However, with the nature of cloud usage continually changing thanks to the arrival of new and improved technologies, coupled with ever-changing business requirements, the question remains … which type of cloud set-up is right for you?
The story so far …
The most common cloud services to-date have been publicly offered, and began life as an alternative to the dedicated server, or costly physical piece of hardware, most commonly housed on-site, owned and managed by the singular enterprise using it.
Public cloud services are available through commercial providers to businesses and individuals, and offer an alternative to the physical dedicated server in the form of a virtualised hosting platform, where critical business applications can be housed. The cloud service provider owns, manages and maintains the resources, while the user gains unlimited access from wherever they happen to be located.
A publicly offered cloud service brings with it a number of obvious advantages. By passing the ongoing maintenance required to keep your hardware and software running effectively to an external party, you are saving yourself time and a whole lot of hassle. There are also the economic benefits that flow from the flexibility and scalability offered by the cloud. Plus, in a rapidly evolving space, cloud providers tend to be on the front foot when it comes to the latest innovations. There’s a certain peace-of-mind that comes with knowing your vital network infrastructure is being managed by expert hands.
Despite the many benefits, there is still resistance amongst a cohort of businesses when it comes to embracing total migration to a public cloud model. Public cloud providers maintain data centers across a multitude of locations the world over, which don’t always meet the performance requirements of the modern business, particularly as multiple clients compete for bandwidth.
As a result of public cloud providers distributing their services via these various physical locations, businesses whose operations are geographically closer have naturally benefitted from lower latency, leaving more distant users with performance frustrations.
What about a hybrid solution?
As a compromise, organisations resistant to the public cloud have increasingly looked to various types of hybrid solution, incorporating different combinations of dedicated, public and private cloud server features. In theory this approach should allow for a highly-customised network that meets the distinct needs of a business, by handpicking the most advantageous elements of each solution.
A hybrid solution, however, often cancels out the aforementioned benefits of the public cloud, when you consider that certain elements are still owned, maintained and operated by the business itself, while others are managed by the public cloud provider. As such, the business retains responsibility for its elements, while missing out on the skills, up-to-the-second knowledge, and innovative thinking of the public cloud provider.
The need to manage these two different implementations separately has also led to challenges when it comes to finding a unified approach, further offsetting the value a hybrid cloud solution should be expected to deliver.
The next generation of cloud computing?
This is where the ‘distributed cloud’ comes in. Gartner Research defines distributed cloud as “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.“
Distributed cloud computing is therefore a model that incorporates the physical location of cloud-delivered services into its definition. This stands in stark contrast to the traditional idea of the cloud, which has never associated the delivery of its services with any specific location.
Essentially, distributed cloud computing still incorporates the public cloud, which is known for its ability to support customers across multiple regions, yet simultaneously draws in hybrid solutions to distribute services via specific physical locations.
The big difference, however, is that responsibility for all services involved remains solely with the public cloud provider, representing a significant shift away from the virtually centralised public cloud service model. This shift has the potential to usher in an entirely new era of cloud computing.
Distributed cloud creates strategically placed centres, which Gartner Research refers to as ‘substations’, shared by more than one organisation and bringing cloud access physically closer to the customer than traditional public cloud data centres have allowed. Distributed cloud therefore offers a solution to one of the major bugbears of public cloud users i.e. latency frustrations, without foregoing the key advantages associated with the cloud such as flexibility, innovation and support.
For these reasons, the future of cloud computing could depend on the ability to offer at least some services from a geographical location closer to the point of use.
Distributed cloud is still in the relatively early stages of life, and will no-doubt continue to evolve at a rapid pace similar to other enterprise technologies, with the potential for the purpose and design of substations and the services they offer to vary and meet the distinct service requirements of individual locations.
While many more questions need to be answered before distributed cloud becomes more widely-embraced, a future where businesses purchase their own cloud substations, for which the public cloud provider will take full responsibility for, is not inconceivable. Beyond this, it’s possible that businesses may band together to buy cloud substations and open them up for use by other organisations in relatively close proximity.
And if you needed an additional show of confidence that the distributed cloud model could truly represent the future of cloud computing, Gartner Research named distributed cloud as one of its top ten trends for 2021. So, watch this space!