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What Is – and Who Needs – Google Distributed Cloud?

Google is not calling Google Distributed Cloud a hybrid cloud solution, but that's what it basically is. We look at who would benefit from using the platform.

Wouldn't it be great if you could take a public cloud platform like Google Cloud and deploy its services in your own data center, or even on edge devices?

Well, you can, using Google Distributed Cloud, one of the newest offerings in Google's cloud services portfolio.

Here's how Google Distributed Cloud works, which use cases it targets, and why you may (or may not) want to use it as part of an edge or hybrid cloud strategy.

What Is Google Distributed Cloud?

Google Distributed Cloud is a suite of cloud products from Google designed primarily to support the deployment of public cloud services at the "edge."

Thus, Google Distributed Cloud isn't a specific platform or service as much as it's a set of various tools and services, which you can use in a variety of ways.

Most of the services built into Google Distributed Cloud come from Google's standard public cloud platform (such as Anthos), so there's nothing really brand-new about Google Distributed Cloud from a technical perspective. It's mostly the way that Google is packaging the services to enable edge and hybrid cloud use cases that makes Google Distributed Cloud unique.

Google Distributed Cloud History

Google announced its Distributed Cloud portfolio in October 2021. The offering currently remains in preview mode, and there have been few real-world deployments of the platform to date. A deployment by Bell Canada, announced in February 2022, is one of the first.

How Does Google Distributed Cloud Work?

Google Distributed Cloud works by allowing users to extend public cloud services that are hosted on Google Cloud Platform to private servers, internet of things (IoT) devices, or other infrastructure. In other words, you can use Distributed Cloud to manage infrastructure that you own — as opposed to infrastructure owned by a cloud provider like Google — using many of the same tools and services that Google makes available to its public cloud customers.

In this way, Distributed Cloud is similar to offerings such as AWS Outposts and Azure Arc, which also extend public cloud functionality into private infrastructure.

Which Infrastructure Does Google Distributed Cloud Support?

Currently, Google Distributed Cloud is designed to run on four types of infrastructure setups:

  • In customers' data centers.
  • On customers' edge devices — meaning devices other than conventional servers that customers deploy on their networks. Edge devices could be things like video cameras or sensors in factories.
  • On the edge infrastructure of network operators (like telco providers).
  • On what Google calls its own network edge, meaning local nodes and points-of-presence within Google's public cloud infrastructure.

This means Google Distributed Cloud can operate on basically any infrastructure — including conventional data centers and less orthodox environments, like networks of IoT devices.

Google Distributed Cloud vs. Hybrid Cloud

If Google Distributed Cloud sounds like a hybrid cloud platform, it's because it basically is. Extending public cloud services like those of Google Cloud into private infrastructure would certainly qualify as a hybrid cloud deployment by most definitions.

Notably, however, Google is not calling the platform a hybrid cloud solution. Instead, Google is using language that centers on "edge" and "distributed" infrastructure.

That's probably because Google already markets Anthos (which, again, is integrated into the Distributed Cloud portfolio but which exists as a stand-alone product, too) as its main hybrid cloud solution.

Since Distributed Cloud is also based in part on Anthos, you could argue that the main difference between Distributed Cloud and a hybrid cloud platform is marketing and branding, not technology. And indeed, to a significant extent, Distributed Cloud seems to be a reflection of Google's efforts to position itself as a leader in the edge computing market above all else.

It's understandable why Google would choose to brand Distributed Cloud as something different from a hybrid cloud platform, even if it's technically really not that different. With Distributed Cloud, Google is in a stronger position to cater to use cases like running network functions on telco infrastructure or managing edge IoT devices — deployments that aren't usually the focus of conventional hybrid cloud platforms.

Do You Need Google Distributed Cloud?

Ultimately, Google Distributed Cloud is likely to become a product that is very important in certain narrow niches, but that most companies won't use.

In verticals such as telco, or for businesses with large IoT infrastructures, Google Distributed Cloud offers an easy way of managing large, distributed networks of devices. It's not the only solution of its kind; you could also manage distributed infrastructures using most Kubernetes distributions, for example, or via proprietary services like Azure IoT Edge. But the fact that Google Distributed Cloud is based on Google Cloud services will give it an advantage among customers who are already invested in the Google Cloud ecosystem.

That said, companies that just want to run a conventional hybrid cloud — meaning one that extends public cloud services to private servers or data centers, without edge infrastructure in the mix — aren't likely to benefit from Google Distributed Cloud. They should choose a more traditional hybrid cloud platform, like Anthos or a similar offering from a different public cloud provider.

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