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From Centralized to Distributed: The Future of Cloud Application Management

The shift towards large cloud providers has many advantages, but it also poses potential security and performance challenges.

Billy Thompson, Akamai

January 5, 2024

3 Min Read
The shift towards large cloud providers poses potential security and performance challenges.

As cloud-based development continues to grow and demands for performance and reliability increase, pushing applications closer to end-users has become increasingly important to drive both performance and security.

The deployment of applications in the cloud has resulted in numerous benefits for both engineering teams and consumers. Engineering teams can take advantage of cloud infrastructure to scale applications quickly and easily without breaking the bank compared to the on-premises models of the past.

As a result, end-users see better experiences through lower latency and higher availability of applications from social media to gaming and streaming.

However, this shift towards hosting applications with large cloud providers has led to a reliance on large cloud vendors with massive, centrally located data center regions. The elasticity of on-demand resources in these regions has helped usher engineers into the modern computing paradigm – but they also pose both security and performance challenges moving forward.

Application Performance and Security Challenges

One of the main challenges of relying on large, centrally located cloud architectures is ensuring application performance. When applications are hosted in a central data center, they are often far away from end-users, which can result in significant latency issues.

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Applications that require real-time interactions are specifically impacted by latency and performance issues. During the pandemic, virtual workers relied on video conferencing to connect with coworkers remotely. Internet of Things (IoT) devices and AI processing are a few other booming examples we’re seeing when it comes to requiring real-time technology to function.

Furthermore, centralizing architecture impacts scalability and innovation. Even a well-balanced design with capacity for horizontal scaling can only scale so far within a single environment. Not to mention, when there is nowhere to go in the case of a regional outage, operations may be frozen in time until the outage is resolved–and that’s not even touching on the recovery process.

Of course, cyber resilience is also top of mind for any application. Centralized architectures host all systems and applications within the same environment, which lowers the barrier to entry for attackers to infiltrate and wreak havoc on an organization. A centralized system represents a single surface area for attack. If it goes down, the entire operation goes down – posing an immense problem for business-critical operations.

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The Path Forward With Distributed Cloud

To address these challenges, many businesses are crying out for an alternative, often in the form of a distributed cloud environment, where applications are hosted on multiple servers around the world, allowing for better performance and increased resilience to cyber-attacks.

By distributing applications across multiple locations, organizations cut down on the time that would be spent processing and analyzing data to and from a centralized cloud, as well as localizing data that doesn’t need to be distributed. Distributed cloud environments also reduce the attack surface and amount of data an attacker can target.

Moreover, localized cloud environments in different locations allow companies to more easily meet data sovereignty and localization requirements in different countries. Each cloud environment can be individually tweaked to keep data closer to where end-users live. This is a growing concern, especially for multinational companies that must comply with different laws and regulations in the different countries they do business in.

As businesses continue to shift towards cloud-based environments, thoughtfully managing where applications are located has become increasingly important. Evolving and emerging cloud principles – hybrid and multi-cloud, application modularization, and standardization on cloud-native architectures – can act as building blocks that support the case for distributed computing.

By making the right choices and investing in the right technologies, businesses can optimize their cloud-based environments and ensure the best possible performance and security for their applications. 

Billy Thompson is Solutions Engineering Manager at Akamai.

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