Distributed Cloud Can Help With Efficiency

When time and location matter, distributed cloud is a great option, but there are always two sides to everything. Be sure to look at all sides before deciding on distributed cloud. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our world was already starting the transition to a mostly-digital world. When the pandemic hit, many businesses accelerated those plans or started planning a strategy if they hadn’t started yet. Part of the process in digital transformation typically involves cloud migration. Determining which provider you use depends on what your needs are, but there is one particular service that businesses should be looking at: Distributed cloud.

Distributed cloud has the potential to make businesses more efficient. It’s the first cloud service that uses a physical location that’s still really cloud. Coming from a public cloud provider, services become distributed to specific physical locations. The proximity of services to users reduces transit latency of data uploading and downloading through network hops. It also ensures a consistent control plane to administer the cloud infrastructure from public to private on-location cloud, as well as extend services across both environments consistently. Performance improves and outages decrease with proximity.

Distributed clouds can increase speeds when dealing with high or rapid throughput data exchanges. The proximity advantage has been proved out through CDNs, automated trading and other edge computing operations where milliseconds count. The use of distributed cloud will likely be for similar low latency applications in fields like emergency management, defense, finance, and news, all of which are industries where time is of the essence. It will also likely be used as a solution for products and services that hold data which falls under certain regulations. Some countries require certain data types belonging to citizens of that country not leave the countries for processing. Regulations like these have been cropping up globally over the past few years. 

Another benefit to using distributed cloud is that it is still the responsibility of the public cloud provider, which means that all security, updates, operations, governance and evolution of services are up to the provider to maintain. This means the shared responsibility model is still in effect.

The cloud in general, including distributed cloud, is far more secure than anything else available today. Any weak points in distributed cloud would also appear in that same provider’s public cloud, so it would be a known issue and therefore something that will be rapidly mitigated. Distributed cloud may also fall more in line with compliance regulations, especially where data has to be kept in a specific location as noted above. Businesses could potentially see lower network failure risk, and we could see an increase in the number of available locations where cloud services can be hosted or consumed.

However, do not suffer from the delusion that distributed cloud will be somehow better than centralized public cloud when it comes to security or stability. As mentioned above, security will be on par with public cloud in all means, except perhaps one that is rarely considered in most IT/Tech teams in 2021: Physical security. Physical security may actually be inferior at distributed cloud substations when compared with the large centralized data centers cloud providers guard like Fort Knox. And it may not be that policies are different, but simply the location is likely less isolated and not as robustly protected externally because of its proximity to where people and businesses are located.

Likewise, there could actually be an increase in outages that matter. There may not be an outage in Philly if Orlando goes out, like the sprawl that would happen in the rare case US-East-1 goes out on AWS. However, if milliseconds matter, Orlando going out may be just as bad, if not worse. The substation in Orlando is likely smaller, has less staff on hand and may be more easily overwhelmed. It could be more easily targeted and could be backboned on less strategic networks. So if milliseconds matter, while an outage in Orlando may not shut a business down, it may make it just as ineffective.

Overall distributed cloud could be really helpful when time or location matter, but there are always risks with benefits. Low latency is preferable for many business, but the prospect of an outage taking longer to fix because of smaller staff, or the potential for someone to physically enter the location where data is stored due to less stringent security may turn off some businesses. Your best bet is to bring in an expert who can tell you all of the actual benefits and risks you might encounter. Be prepared and know your options.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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