Points of presence, simply put, are physical, public cloud data centers located all over the world, providing access and public cloud hosting services. We’ve seen these pop up on our cloud dashboards as we select regions to host public cloud compute or storage.
Typically, we go for the ones closest to the company’s location to reduce latency and provide more resiliency in case of network issues. For instance, Washington, D.C.-based businesses would typically select cloud centers in northern Virginia, whereas those in Los Angeles would pick centers nearby or in the Bay Area. A few things are driving the need to change this model.
First, since the pandemic, remote work has become more the norm rather than the exception. Although some people will return to the office at some point, businesses now understand that remote work means more productive employees, better employee retention, and reduced office overhead. It’s a win/win that means we’ll still be at our kitchen tables for some time, but out of our cars.
Second, employees working remotely are not geographically constrained. Many are escaping the overheated metropolitan housing markets for the cheaper and slower life of the (almost) now 5G-connected rural America. This is even causing a shortage of houses for sale in rural housing markets.
Keep in mind that the resources of public cloud computing providers (compute and storage) are hosted in multiple locations worldwide. These locations are composed of regions and zones. A region, as mentioned above, is a specific geographic location where you can host your resources. Regions are broken down into zones. For example, the us-westX region on the West Coast of the United States may have three or more zones: us-westX-aw, us-westX-bw, and us-westX-cw.
Compute, storage, and other cloud resources that live in zones are known as zonal resources. Other resources, such as standing up a static IP address, are regional. They can only be utilized by resources within that region, and by any zone in that region. Zonal resources can only be leveraged by resources in the same zone.
If you’re thinking that this is pretty limiting for globally distributed companies, you’re right. Part of the challenge of designing and deploying cloud-based applications and databases is picking the right regions and zones. Of course, anybody on the open internet can access resources within any region and/or zone. However, with the more distributed use of cloud-based resources (based on changes in demographics), a good many could suffer from latency and reliability issues they did not have a year or so ago when they worked in an office in a major city.
The answer to this problem is to provide more compute regions and zones closer to those who are accessing the resources running within them. Thus, the rise of “edge cloud centers” or local regions (I’ve heard many different names). The public cloud providers are trying to offer fast access to key cloud services by locating them closer to users.
You can think of edge cloud centers as sort of a convenience store for cloud computing. They don’t offer everything that a cloud provider provides, meaning access to all cloud services, but you’ll find the basics, which can be mixed with the larger catalog of services found within full-blown regions when needed.
These edge centers are not likely to be the huge data centers you see dotting the landscape now, but perhaps rooms in existing buildings that are underutilized since employees are now working at home.
This development is good for a few reasons. Public cloud providers often get pushback for not providing points of presence in more rural states or even smaller countries. These emerging markets will now gain access. Small businesses located outside of major metropolitan areas now have a workable public cloud option that leverages an intrastate data center. Finally, a new and emerging remote workforce who chooses to have no commute, more time with loved ones, and more land will be supported.
Perhaps “buying the farm” will now be a good thing—as long as there is a new edge cloud center just down the street.