Gone are the days of a centralized data center at company headquarters; instead, companies today must manage complex IT environments spanning the globe. Distributed IT has become mainstream as enterprises continue to make progress on their digital transformation and adopt more Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. That’s because modern applications and emerging technology implementations require modern infrastructure that puts compute closer to where data is generated and interconnects you with a dynamic ecosystem of partners. Not only that, but such architectures require highly modern networks capable of tying together all the elements of dispersed IT environments while keeping performance up.
Distributed environments undoubtedly introduce complexity in comparison with traditional centralized IT. They’re more complicated for IT teams to manage, requiring specialized skills. They also come with greater security exposures and require advanced networking that can address communication between different network types. As a result of this added complexity, distributed environments require a robust governance structure. In this post, we’ll look at four ways companies can manage the added complexity and risk that comes with distributed IT.
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What is a distributed environment?
It might seem obvious, but the word “distributed” has many layers of meaning in IT. It can refer to an environment that traverses:
- Multiple data centers in numerous geographical locations
- Multiple cloud providers—public or private (i.e., hybrid multicloud)
- Core and edge infrastructure
- Colocation facilities and managed service providers
Users, too, can be distributed across many locations—as the transition to more remote work in the past few years has emphasized. Emerging technologies and edge solutions like autonomous vehicles and cutting-edge AI use cases often rely on distributed IT, so you can bet that it’s here to stay. And distributed architectures come with noteworthy benefits: they help companies globalize, support edge computing and meet fluctuating demand while decreasing latency and reducing network failure risk. Whether a distributed architecture is something you’ve planned or not, it’s going to happen, so it’s a good idea to be prepared.
Governance for distributed IT environments
Governance can be broadly defined as a set of practices to ensure your IT infrastructure supports your strategic priorities and the needs of all stakeholders in how resources are used. Distributed environments aren’t just technically more complex to manage; they also necessitate good governance policies since many decisions will need to be made about how to allocate resources and address the needs and attributes of different applications, users and data. For instance, you might consider: What’s your model for deciding which applications go to which cloud? Will certain attributes apply to certain clouds or SaaS providers? How will you properly run an environment that’s distributed?
Creating a cloud governance policy gives you a strategic starting point for managing the complexity of a distributed environment. From there, you can adopt specific tools and technologies to address the technical complexity.
4 tips for managing the complexity and risk of distributed IT
The following four guidelines will help you address the added complexity of a distributed environment:
1. Use monitoring and visibility tools to better understand your environment and network.
A range of monitoring and observability solutions are now available to help enterprises gain visibility into distributed IT environments—including application performance, observability, orchestration and security tools.
Network visibility is one important piece of the puzzle of gaining insight into your environment and its performance. Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions offer clear advantages for distributed digital infrastructures and multicloud environments, and deploying SD-WAN solutions improves network visibility and control. At Equinix, you can deploy SD-WAN solutions from companies like VMware, Versa Networks and Fortinet using our Network Edge network automation platform or Equinix Metal® Bare Metal as a Service. Working with our ecosystem of SD-WAN providers can give you the visibility you need to manage your network and gain insights that empower you to make actionable decisions.
2. Implement security policies like zero trust to address increased risk.
A distributed IT environment—in comparison to traditional, centralized IT—increases the potential attack surface for bad actors. Because organizations are now moving data across clouds, data centers and numerous global locations, there are more access points, and therefore greater security vulnerability. As a result, companies have realized the need to set strong security boundaries and policies across their infrastructure. Zero-trust security policies have gained traction as an approach to managing threat prevention in increasingly complex, dispersed environments. In fact, Gartner® predicts that 60% of organizations will adopt zero-trust security by 2025. Zero-trust applies the principle of “least privilege,” with its default policy of denying access to applications and data.
In addition to adopting more stringent security policies, you can quickly and easily deploy virtual firewalls to filter and monitor the traffic in your network using Network Edge. Virtual solutions have the benefit of taking just minutes to deploy, giving you greater flexibility in setting up and adapting your environment with evolving business needs.
3. Take advantage of infrastructure automation to simplify and speed up provisioning.
Automation can help you accelerate operations and deployments while cutting costs and improving efficiency—and today, many cloud and SaaS providers have adopted it. So why not take advantage of infrastructure automation to address the orchestration and management of distributed environments?
One possibility is using an automation framework like Terraform for infrastructure deployment. With Terraform, you can provision Equinix digital services like Network Edge, Equinix Metal and Equinix Fabric® with the click of a button. Infrastructure as code (IaC) solutions like Terraform, which can be scheduled to run at specific times or based on trigger events, enable faster provisioning, more consistency than manual processes, the ability to monitor infrastructure and cost reduction via automation.
4. Connect with the right vendors and ecosystem partners.
You don’t have to tackle the complexity of modern IT environments alone. Ecosystem partnerships have become a fundamental aspect of IT infrastructure, and there are plenty of solutions and vendors out there ready to help you simplify management of your environment. Digital solutions like Equinix Fabric software-defined interconnection can help you quickly and easily connect to strategic technology partners in the right locations via private, on-demand connectivity. Interconnection reduces network costs due to distributed points of presence and gives you access to a larger pool of solution providers to help address the challenges your distributed environment presents faster, while enabling more innovation.
Equinix simplifies modern infrastructure
Distributed infrastructures aren’t going away, but these four tips can help you address the complexity to future-proof your business. Working with Equinix gives you a one-stop shop for addressing each of these areas. We provide a single platform to help you address the complexity of working across multiple geographies, multiple clouds, core and edge infrastructure and so much more. That’s because we’ve been in the business of distributing workloads across the globe and bringing modern networking to the table for a long time.
To learn more about achieving success in distributed IT environments and evolving your infrastructure for the future, check out the Gartner report The Evolution of IT Infrastructure — Designing for the Unknown.
 Gartner, “Gartner Unveils the Top Eight Cybersecurity Predictions for 2022-23,” June 2022.
 Gartner, The Evolution of IT Infrastructure – Designing for the Unknown, February 10, 2022, by David Cappuccio.
Disclaimer: GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.