Are developers interested in distributed cloud computing? Are they using it? To answer these questions, we worked together with Akamai Technologies to explore what developers think of distributed cloud computing. The survey results were collected, cleaned, analysed and put together in the publicly available report “Developer perceptions of distributed cloud“.
The findings of the data in the report and this article are based on a survey of 700+
professional developers who deploy, build, or manage services and applications in the cloud, which ran between June and July 2023. These developers come from over 50 countries, and across a wide range of industries.
In this article, we will go through the types of cloud environment(s) and cloud-related activities developers are involved in and the current interest and perception of distributed cloud.
But first, a definition that was also given to the developers who took the survey:
“Distributed cloud computing: the practice of decentralizing cloud resources and services to be physically closer to the data source or user, while still being managed centrally.”
Why are we talking about distributed cloud computing?
Software development has seen a series of monumental shifts and changes in practices and technologies over the past few decades. However, at every stage of new technological advancement, these novel approaches have succeeded because they match the needs of developers, whether to serve their development goals or customer success. Developers are smart and will pursue technologies that they can see and understand the proposition value of.
Developers are now facing another such shift in technology with distributed cloud computing, which has the potential to transform the cloud computing ecosystem by bringing processing and compute closer to the end-point consumers. The potential benefits and use cases for moving compute closer to the end users are numerous; several of which we explore in this report. However, it is important for those developing distributed cloud computing infrastructure and solutions to listen to developers and understand their perceptions and likely use cases of decentralized cloud resources that are centrally managed. This allows providers to cater to developer needs, support the avenues they wish to explore, as well as identify areas where developers may need more education and information on various aspects.
Who are the developers who use cloud environments
To better understand the developers who use cloud environments, we examined:
The advantages developers are most interested in exploring in a distributed and decentralized world
The challenges they expect to face
The development standards they believe are most important
Which technologies they feel need greater development to support their adoption of a more distributed cloud.
For the report, the majority of developers deployed some of their projects to hybrid cloud environments (55%), with private cloud (40%), and network infrastructure (39%) as the next most popular deployments. Among this developer segment, 35% identified themselves as already using distributed cloud in a professional capacity.
55% of developers in this study were already using distributed cloud in some form during their current development.
The activities of developers show clear overlaps, with the most popular activity (55%) among these developers being to deploy applications on a combination of both on-premise and cloud-based infrastructure. This sample also includes a high proportion of developers who are involved in building strategies for load balancing (46%) and implementing security protocols (45%). Another important aspect of this developer population is the higher proportion of developers who manage deployments across geographically distributed servers (46%) than those who explicitly state they deploy to distributed cloud (35%). This highlights that geographic distribution of servers is a practice many developers are currently involved in, even if they are not specifically deploying to services they call distributed cloud.
The current interest in and perception of Distributed Cloud
For the developers within this survey, we found that when developers were asked about their familiarity with distributed clouds, a very high percentage were using distributed cloud services (55%) in some capacity during their development. This high usage suggests that there are many developers who are beginning to adapt their processes to a more decentralized and distributed world. Further, among the developers surveyed, there is a very small minority (7%) who are neither familiar nor interested in distributed cloud services. This again highlights that many developers are continually exploring and looking for new directions they can take their solutions in, with a much smaller proportion expressing disinterest in this.
Of the developers who are not already using distributed cloud services but are interested in learning more, we see that interest is very high. 65% of these developers were either very or extremely interested in distributed cloud solutions. This interest is higher for developers with more familiarity with distributed cloud. Of those who were somewhat familiar, 74% of developers expressed this high level of interest, while for those who were not very familiar, only 40% were extremely or very interested. This suggests that as developers increase their knowledge of distributed cloud solutions, their interest grows, likely as a consequence of them being able to better envision how these solutions will work with their current projects.
Developers working in data analytics or business intelligence show the highest level of interest in distributed cloud solutions
81% of the developers in data analytics or BI indicate that they are either extremely or very interested. However, of this 81% of developers, only a quarter are extremely interested in distributed cloud solutions. Comparing this to those in education and/or academic research and SaaS, who have an overall lower proportion of developers in the very or extremely interested group, a higher proportion say they are extremely interested.
This observation underscores the nuanced approaches required when engaging developers across diverse industries about distributed cloud solutions. For instance, developers in data analytics/business intelligence and ecommerce are likely recognizing the broader benefits of distributed cloud solutions for their sector. The potential for real-time data analytics and scalability in these sectors is evident. However, within SaaS companies, interest can be more intricately tied to a developer's specific experience and projects.
The full report at this point offers an “industry deep-dive” to highlight industry-specific insights. Read it here.
In addition to observed differences based on the industries developers work in, we also see regional differences in familiarity and interest. A larger proportion of North American developers are very familiar with distributed cloud (61%) compared to their Western European counterparts (51%). However, 70% of Western European developers who are not very familiar with distributed clouds are extremely or very interested, compared to 60% of North American developers. This suggests that while adoption may be greater in North America, this is not due to a lack of interest in the space. Instead, North America may just be ahead of the curve, with more of these interested developers having already started working with distributed cloud solutions, possibly to improve their global reach.
Most appealing benefits of Distributed Cloud to developers
The leading benefit that developers find appealing about distributed cloud solutions is their potential to improve user experience due to reducing latency (38%). As both an easy-to-envision benefit and a current problem that developers face, this is likely the motivation for many developers choosing it. Flexibility in scaling in different geographies (34%) and a greater capacity for handling data-intensive applications (33%) are the second and third most popular benefits.
However, the least popular benefit selected by developers in our survey is the potential for innovation with localized computing power (23%). This stands as one of the benefits that distributed clouds offer to developers that differentiates it from other cloud solutions, and its low ranking as a benefit likely represents a lack of knowledge and information about the uses of distributed clouds in real-world applications. This may stem from developers viewing distributed cloud solutions through the lens of traditional edge computing, rather than recognizing its broader potential to create novel experiences. Further, it may suggest that developers are still viewing distributed clouds from a platform-centric view and therefore have yet to imagine how they could utilize a distributed cloud system’s local compute.
Distributed Cloud: What’s Missing For Developers?
Let’s look at what developers feel is missing from distributed cloud solutions, focusing on three questions:
If they could influence the future direction of distributed cloud technology, what would they prioritize for increased adoption?
What standards do they believe are essential for distributed cloud computing to be a viable option?
What are the current obstacles and limitations preventing them from utilizing distributed cloud in their own projects?
First, we asked developers to identify features they feel are lacking. Developers overall are most likely to feel clear cost savings (30%), more robust security features (27%), and enhanced tools for managing distributed systems (26%) were features they consider the most important to improve. However, the next most commonly selected option is the lack of skilled professionals (24%).
Cloud development has been a dominant practice in software development for many years and has created many developers with deep experience, and distributed cloud technology introduces new challenges that require different technical experience. Furthermore, a distributed cloud requires a move away from a platform-centric view of cloud development and necessitates different development styles and approaches.
You can find the answers to the standards they need and current obstacles in the full report, including a deeper look at the improvements developers would prioritise, broken down by their industry involvement.
Developer Expectations of Technologies and Vendor Support
To conclude, we look at the specific technologies and practices that developers are considering when imagining a distributed cloud future. The final section of the report discusses the practices that developers consider the most important when managing distributed cloud solutions.
Earlier we noted that more than one-third of developers indicated that security risks were a key challenge when moving their software to a distributed cloud platform. We see this sentiment again in developers' responses to the question: “Which practices are most important when managing distributed cloud solutions?” Security and compliance practices lead as the most commonly selected option (42%). However, we note that this is a belief especially popular among those with programmer (38%), system administrator (39%), or technology/engineering team lead roles (37%).
This may indicate what sort of security support developers expect from vendors. For example, programmers may be more interested in vendors providing secure APIs to allow them to integrate security solutions into their development processes. While those in system administrator roles may instead wish for vendors to support them with regular security updates that help address vulnerabilities across the wide network surface of their distributed solution.
Conversely, security and compliance practices are less commonly selected by those in DevOps specialist (25%) and site reliability engineer (22%) roles. Those in DevOps specialist roles are more likely to select continuous delivery/continuous deployment (CI/CD) (39%) and Infrastructure as Code (32%), while site reliability engineers select CI/CD (45%) and configuration management (36%) as expectations. These follow logically from the roles and responsibilities of developers’ roles.
In the full report, we close by showing more insights on developer perceptions of under-realised technologies and vendor activities.
Thank you for reading this article. Its purpose is to give you a taste of the insights you can expect by diving into the “Developer perceptions of distributed cloud” report SlashData authored and Akamai Technologies commissioned.