COVID-19 has been a propellant for a global economic crisis, but it has also accelerated an expanding digital economy. Online collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Cisco Webex have experienced massive upticks in usage— and for good reason. The distributed nature of cloud services is a natural fit for managing virtual work.
In fact, digital productivity and collaboration platforms have been a saving grace during the current pandemic. Ensuring dependable and secure remote work, cloud services are now underwriting a new era of corporate enterprise. As the impact of the global pandemic continues to change the nature of work, distributed cloud technologies are now set to reshape the post-COVID world.
It is almost impossible to imagine a return to the globalization of previous decades. Alongside travel restrictions and the dangers posed by disease transmission, the world’s international economic system is changing as well. In the United States, President Trump’s aggressive focus on decoupling from China has reset policymaking away from laissez-faire globalization and toward nationalization. Given this economic reorientation, cloud computing is becoming the default feature of contemporary business enterprise.
Harnessing distributed cloud computing
Even prior to the pandemic, cloud technologies had become one of the main capital investments for most organizations. Much like an operating system, cloud computing platforms provide basic underlying programs to ensure that physical servers and software applications can be accessed remotely in a seamless manner. Where traditional cloud services aim to cut costs and help users focus on core business competencies, distributed cloud services add an additional geographical layer, moving compute and data closer to users.
Distributed cloud services facilitate the distribution of cloud services across different physical locations, including offloading operations and governance to the public cloud provider, or extending public cloud services to a private edge cloud. The goal of traditional cloud computing has been to enable users to benefit from cutting-edge technologies without the need for deep knowledge or formal expertise. In this way, cloud computing has been the foundation in managing on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power.
Distributed cloud computing expands the traditional, large data center-based cloud model to a set of distributed cloud infrastructure components that are geographically dispersed. Where distributed computing apportions computation workload across multiple, interconnected servers, distributed cloud computing generalizes this to the cloud infrastructure itself. In fact, cloud computing has evolved in lockstep with the growing need for virtual collaboration. Building on virtualization software, companies have been able to separate physical computing devices into one or more “virtual” devices, each of which easily uses and manages computing tasks.
The main value of distributed cloud services is the provision of an execution-rich environment in which application components are placed at appropriate geographically-dispersed locations. A distributed cloud ensures that computation, storage, and networking are in a micro-cloud located outside the centralized cloud. With the growing importance of the Internet of Things (IoT) and other data-intensive systems, distributed cloud services provide users with end-to-end management for the optimal distribution of data, computing, and network connectivity.
Moving to the Fourth Industrial Revolution
One critical feature of cloud services has been the ability of service users to outsource the maintenance and operations of their whole IT infrastructure. Unfortunately, most corporate networks are not prepared for the onslaught of remote work. As Gartner points out, even as companies have spent large sums to build out their existing capacity to handle remote work, few have come close to provisioning the capacity they now need.
What is clear is that the challenges posed by a digital economy are only set to grow. According to IDC, more than 5 billion consumers globally interact with data every day. By 2025, that number will be 6 billion, or 75 percent of the world’s population. Catalyzing this shift will depend upon the digitization and automation of multiple industry sectors including manufacturing, construction, mining, utilities, healthcare, transportation, logistics, and wholesale and retail trade.
One obvious example of this shift is the growing importance of Intelligent Transport. The ongoing deployment of autonomous vehicles will build on locally processed data from on-board and road sensors in maintaining a steady speed and separation between vehicles. In the trucking industry, the paths followed and monitored by fleet management systems will be located in a regional cloud, which analyzes data from multiple vehicles to determine optimal routes and while identifying vehicles for routine maintenance.
All of this data-driven activity is set to intensify thanks to 5G. Even as countries around the world begin restructuring their global supply chains, 5G will continue to reshape the contours of what many now call the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, this Fourth Industrial Revolution is remaking the global economy as countries leverage data to compete for market advantage.
Unlike previous generations of mobile technology, 5G is specifically designed to support vast amounts of data. Indeed, the impact of data-hungry software applications will be particularly felt as 5G telecommunications increasingly becomes commonplace. Where 4G cloud architecture was largely about consumer and social media applications, the move to 5G is about industrial and business critical applications.
This includes massive numbers of devices and applications that require very fast and reliable communications with minimal latency, or lag. This will mean many orders of magnitude improvement in productivity, particularly through automation. Supporting a dizzying array of applications including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, autonomous vehicles, and advanced factory automation, 5G will reshape much of the world’s manufacturing and communication infrastructure.
Deglobalization means distributed cloud
There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen. The current global pandemic is now accelerating a technological transformation that will remake the world of work as we know it. While distributed cloud has been a buzzword for some time, its value is now becoming indisputable. For many companies today this shift may prove daunting. However, even prior to COVID-19, Gartner forecast that cloud services would grow substantially.
In this era of deglobalization, business enterprises are increasingly under pressure to support edge-based computing systems, particularly data-intensive systems and processes. The obvious value of edge computing is that data is processed as close to the place where it is generated as possible. This is particularly important when considering data that is too sensitive to be sent over public networks, even if that data is encrypted. Using edge computing, organizations can reduce latency, minimize network congestion, and potentially eliminate the risk of data loss.
In addition to convenience, firms using distributed and edge services benefit by leveraging resilient and disaster-averse systems wherever they are located. This means ensuring compliance with regard to data sovereignty regulations because data can be maintained locally in the country where it is generated. In this way, edge computing is not so much a new computing paradigm as an extension of distributed cloud computing. Together, the growing importance of regulatory compliance, network resilience, and network scalability point to more distributed cloud services rather than less. Given the impact of applications that depend on low latency and high throughput, it stands to reason that distributed cloud will become the new normal. Indeed, as forecasts by Nokia Bell Labs suggest, this accelerating cloud revolution will continue to mature through 2030.