Cloud trends change with the introduction of new technology and evolving business requirements. Traditional on-premises data center infrastructure has been supplemented with private and public cloud options, resulting in hybrid cloud strategies. Hybrid cloud strategies have their challenges, which IT departments may not have anticipated completely, such as the disconnects between private cloud and public cloud. Although hybrid cloud solutions have emerged to help address the issue, the next cloud trend is distributed cloud.
Gartner 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." In fact, Gartner identified distributed cloud as a top 10 trend for 2020.
What's driving distributed cloud
Cloud providers have maintained data centers in various locations around the world, although regions and zones haven't always met the performance requirements of all uses cases or all data residency requirements. Cloud providers have been expanding their footprints to keep up evolving customer requirements, including providing distributed cloud options.
Distributed cloud includes what Gartner calls “substations”, which may be shared by more than one company. As Gartner describes it, "Distributed cloud creates strategically placed substations of cloud compute, storage and networking that can act as shared cloud pseudo-availability zones." The substations bring cloud access physically closer to the customer than zones do.
As Gartner notes in its top 10 research note, "Distributed cloud is the first cloud model that incorporates physical location of cloud-delivered services as part of its definition."
Rather than providing a centralized solution for everything, distributed cloud can meet the customized service requirements of individual locations. It also provides a means of executing a unified cloud strategy that includes location-dependent use cases.
Arguably, the point of hybrid cloud was to enable a unified strategy. However, enterprises have been struggling to drive the level of value they expected from their private cloud because private cloud can be difficult to implement and the management of infrastructure is bifurcated. Specifically, the customer is responsible for managing and maintaining the private cloud whether on-premises or in in a hosted environment while cloud providers manage and maintain public cloud resources. Distributed cloud uses a consistent control plane across both.
In a release, Gartner Research Vice President Brian Burke said, "Distributed cloud can replace private cloud and provides edge cloud and other new use cases for cloud computing. It represents the future of cloud computing.”
Distributed cloud overcomes hybrid challenges
One challenge Gartner mentions in a report comparing distributed cloud and hybrid cloud is that some organizations that think they're implementing hybrid cloud aren't. Specifically, they're using public cloud services but they're not using private cloud technologies.
Even when enterprises have true hybrid environments, they run into challenges because private cloud and public cloud are two different implementations that need to be managed separately. The resulting overhead taxes the value hybrid cloud delivers.
There are now hybrid cloud offerings that address the many challenges Gartner mentions in its report, but architects and IT leaders still need to keep the limitations of hybrid cloud in perspective.
Distributed cloud will evolve
Distributed cloud will evolve over time on several different levels. For example, the purpose and design of substations will vary to suit the use cases. Also, the types of services those substations deliver will also vary.
For more insights into how distributed cloud will evolve and the different use cases for it, read Gartner's Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2020: Distributed Cloud report, and its Distributed Cloud Fixes What 'Hybrid Cloud' Breaks reports.
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