The advantages of distributed cloud.

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Distributed cloud is a mix of on-premise and (multi-) cloud computing in which the control plane for the on-premise part of the system matches that of the cloud(s). In principle, the consistent control plane abstraction makes it possible to develop software that can move between on-premise and clouds with relatively low operational effort.

Distributed cloud means that workloads that can be more cost-effectively managed on your own servers can be run that way, and more cloud-friendly workloads can run on a cloud. Both workloads target the same APIs, but there is a degree of flexibility in where workloads will be run.

In a sense, you can choose between your own infrastructure and a cloud to suit your current needs.

When the major cloud providers like Google, Amazon AWS, Microsoft, Alibaba, etc. release some of the code that runs their clouds, it improves the quality of non-cloud data centers too as they run more like the clouds of those hyperscalers.

At first glance, this is an own goal. But dig deeper, and this becomes a gateway to giving CIOs the freedom to move systems with relative ease into the cloud. CIOs are aware of this and some will be wary of the lock-in element of this strategy. Cautious CIOs know the next level up from hybrid cloud is distributed cloud where there is the same backplane across multiple providers (as well as their own data centers).

Cloud-based operational advantage

It’s clear that cloud providers have clear innovations to offer, but they are not the sole source of useful information technology. Today’s ISVs (independent software vendors) have offerings for your on-premise needs as well as existing in the marketplaces of all the biggest public clouds.

This parallel between on premises and cloud offerings means you can choose a solution, such as a new form of database management system, for instance, and have complete freedom to deploy to on-premise or cloud-provisioned hardware. You can also simply consume the existing SaaS version of that software from your chosen cloud. Want to move from on-prem to cloud or back? Simple. Want to move clouds? Again, this is straightforward.

Working with an ISV means you can use the application on a distributed cloud but not be tied to any particular public cloud provider. You can decide between choosing an on-premise-only solution or a fully managed cloud solution. Consider how, for example, you might find great value in some Amazon services, but for cost or uptime reasons, the organization you work for needs to move to Google. In this situation, an Amazon proprietary solution leaves the CIO exposed, as it is not an option on Google. A distributed cloud-aware independent software vendor solution, however, can run on Google (or any other public cloud) or be hosted in your own data center.

In this new distributed cloud world, not being coupled to any cloud provider is a strategic operational advantage.

Data location compliance and benefits

Running third-party apps in a distributed cloud also allows the CIO to better manage latency. Picture a core business application partly run by Google in California, 5,000 miles away from your Frankfurt operation. This can be a mission-critical issue if the data is latency-sensitive. Financial traders, for instance, need to make local calls that take an incredibly small fraction of a second to transmit to a server; but if the data has to travel to the US and back, that 10,000-mile round trip takes a surprisingly large number of milliseconds.

If I’m running that part of my system on the local on-prem distributed cloud, that same transaction can be completed in sub-milliseconds, which is a huge win. There’s a similar distributed cloud business advantage in the case of addressing regulatory requirements, especially GDPR. You never know where your data resides at any given moment in the public cloud, but if you have your own data center, you know the data is physically there. One of the benefits of a distributive cloud is that it gives you the ability to host some data in the cloud and some data physically on your servers. The data is still run on the same cloud operating system, but the actual data is physically located in the building next door.

When a GDPR inspector comes and wants to know where a customer’s data is held, you can say it’s in this building, on that computer, and in that rack. That’s going to help you and your data compliance officer’s peace of mind.

Workloads of the future

The move to distributed cloud will give the enterprise cloud user the computing and compliance benefits associated with geographical proximity to data, while accessing the flexibility and cost benefits cloud naturally offers as an IT service approach. It also offers the ideal on-ramp to public clouds. It enables the business to run its data center in such a way that it would be straightforward to pass across to a public cloud provider when it makes business sense.

For large, mature enterprises, distributed cloud offers numerous advantages for the CIO. While there is cost and complexity associated with distributed cloud (especially in these early days), buying into distributed cloud keeps your options open. You can choose where you will run your workloads in the future and importantly what software you will choose to run them on. The cloud providers’ software is often excellent, but it is not all the software you will need, and working with an ISV offers you extra flexibility across a distributed cloud deployment.

By Jim Webber, at Neo4j.