Feature - 20 May 2021 (ComputerWeekly)


Living on the edge: The enterprises working with distributed cloud

Distributed public cloud services are seen as driving advances at the network edge but few companies yet enjoy full-fledged benefits.


By 2025, most cloud service platforms will provide at least some distributed cloud services that execute at the point of need, according to Gartner, for a cost-effective single pane of control while staying the right side of data sovereignty and residency requirements even at the edge.


Dennis Lauwers, distinguished engineer for hybrid cloud at IBM Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), gives the example of deploying artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities at a branch or edge location – without managing the whole AI engine.


“I can have the same cloud experience as public cloud in the location I need,” he says. “The service is activated for me and consumption-based, with ease of use, managed and monitored. I can do a pay-as-you-go or pay-as-you-use model because of that.”


Gartner positions distributed cloud partly as an answer to hybrid complexities and public cloud compliance concerns, with Gartner senior director analyst John McArthur recommending distributed cloud as a solution for edge. However, beyond the likes of Google Cloud and Anthos on-premise, adoption presently looks embryonic.


Lauwers says IBM partner Lumen is bringing cloud to edge locations for industrial internet of things (IIoT) applications, consuming capabilities in a distributed way to serve Lumen’s own customers.


“Their solution is now built on public cloud services but they can deploy practically to any environment today they really want,” he says.


“We also have an ISV [independent software vendor] working with retailers bringing software to the retail locations, not their datacentres, to do very nice visual inspection things and so on, ensuring everything is running optimally into a store, with a runtime environment to automate application delivery into those locations.” It’s an approach he likens to “software as a service on-premise”.


Organisations are certainly provisioning resources and linking into a manageable control plane, and IBM’s offering could even run enterprise SAP at the edge “if you really needed to”, Lauwers says.


IBM Cloud Satellite can combine IBM and Microsoft Azure services, for example, for a lower latency solution that executes on location and enables data governance and sovereignty within a “catalogue” cloud service, he notes.


Gordon Davey, global cloud services lead at SoftwareONE, agrees that distributed cloud with improved transparency should attract many organisations, as they move away from the idea of cloud being simply “an amorphous blob” for storing (or losing) your data.


SoftwareONE customer Omnico, an Azure-based transaction and engagement platform provider to global retail, food and leisure brands, managed to halve cloud costs while preserving scalability and support in an automated environment with multiple nodes.


The Omnico platform has improved availability and security, including better ISO27001, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ITIL compliance, Davey says.


Large-scale projects especially can gain from deploying Azure or similar for customer environments in search of granularity and feature parity. Organisations can also trial distributed cloud in small bites to “fail fast or scale”, Davey adds.


Stephen Gilderdale, senior director and head of presales architects at Dell UK, confirms that use cases are emerging with Dell partners both for “near edge”, with firms such as Equinix for colocation or Orange, and “far edge” IoT sensor-based applications for “wherever the work is taking place”.


Distributed edge cloud potentially answers analytics questions faster, helpful for matters such as moving goods or getting on-site permissions.


Dell has been talking to large shipping and logistics firms about ensuring the right freight gets onto the plane or ship going to the right location to deliver items economically and fast, as well as distributed cloud use cases with football stadia and construction companies, involving cameras, computers, tools and equipment – including radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and the like for site visitors.

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