The distributed cloud: the new generation cloud?
From now on, no company can afford to ignore the private, hybrid or public cloud anymore. However, in its Top Strategic Predictions for 2021, Gartner refers to the distributed cloud, combining these three variations of cloud with the emergence of technological trends such as edge computing (processing and storing data near the equipment generating it) or the Internet of Things (the interconnection of intelligent objects able to produce data about all kinds of events). Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has forced organizations to (sometimes urgently) deploy telework, which has required the implementation of remote access tools to information for employees, customers and business partners.
The best of both worlds
Obviously, companies remain hesitant about an ‘all public cloud’ strategy, favoring a combination of private and public cloud. It must be said that the public cloud hasn’t always led to the expected benefits, whether in financial terms (cost savings) or in terms of management. The expected flexibility hasn’t always been obtained, not to mention the sharing of responsibilities, especially in terms of security. Therefore, many organizations have opted for a combination of solutions in the form of a hybrid cloud: one part is designed, controlled and managed by the customer, the other is designed, controlled and managed by a cloud provider. In this model, the customer is still responsible for the operations, but benefits from the assets of the public cloud provider in terms of economies of scale, innovation, technological skills and investments.
Furthermore, the public cloud has been penalized by networks which aren’t sufficiently efficient yet and suffer from high latency, making it difficult to work in real time. 5G promises to significantly improve data flows up to 20 Gbit/s, or 10 times more than the current 4G. This will reduce transit delays by 10 in comparison with 4G. Globally speaking, the distributed cloud is a synonym for ‘network computing’. This network is constantly adapting (offering maximum elasticity), mobile, secure, guaranteed and omnipresent. However, other technologies should favor the implementation of this distributed cloud, in particular serverless computing, open source and containers.
Besides, Gartner estimates that by 2024, most cloud platforms will offer a certain number of distributed cloud services. As far as KPMG and Harvey Nash are concerned, they consider in their latest CIO Survey (conducted among 4.200 IT directors around the world) that the number of IT managers actively considering the distributed cloud will double within only 12 months (from 11% to 21%).
Still according to Gartner, the deployment of a distributed cloud should be performed in two stages. In the first place, companies will have to implement ‘substations’: local branches offering proximity services to their internal and external business partners. These branches will be equipped with processing, storage and networking functionalities in order to reduce latency and to form the basis of a hybrid cloud. At a second stage, public administrations, telecom operators, universities and energy suppliers in particular will open cloud substations, a bit like Wi-Fi hotspots, in order to add new functionalities. Of course, maximum transparency will have to be ensured to allow all customers to define their needs and to allow the supplier to automatically configure the service accordingly.
Several questions still need to be answered before we can speak of the massive adoption of this distributed cloud. Therefore, we must know how many functionalities will be available in a cloud and thus whether this cloud will be fully or partially distributed. Similarly, we must know how this distributed cloud will be remunerated, since a large number of customers and suppliers will be involved. And yes, the higher this number, the more successful it will be. One last question: will these substations be permanently connected to the cloud?
Moreover, the lack of expertise and security (in particular in terms of GDPR and governance, especially in Europe, where national sovereignty is an important principle) will constitute obstacles to the deployment of the distributed cloud. “Since the distributed cloud market is currently immature, the costs can be high and the deployment models can be complex”, says Jeffrey Hewitt, Research Vice President at Gartner. “Organizations should still consider it as part of the future of cloud computing, because most cloud service platforms will provide at least some distributed cloud services in the next four years.”
David Smith, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner, adds: “The next generation of cloud computing retains the advantages of cloud computing while extending the range and use cases of cloud.” To put it briefly: the implementation of a distributed cloud implies that the CIO will have to team up with both the business and the cloud provider in order to imagine new applications or use cases.
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