4 Distributed Systems Types (Plus Pros and Cons)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published August 12, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer programming and networks can take many forms and structures depending on the needs and desired functions of an organization. Large-scale technology programs often include distributed systems structures that offer a greater capacity and speed for computing processes. Understanding the components and purposes of the different distributed systems types can help programmers and system architects in building programs and determining which structures provide the most efficient operations. In this article, we provide a list of the four most common distributed systems types and discuss the definition and pros and cons of distributed systems.

What is a distributed systems type?

A distributed system is a computing program where the components appear across multiple devices within a network. The devices communicate and share resources to synchronize and complete various functions across multiple sources. Using a distributed system increases a software's efficiency by delegating and coordinating processes between multiple devices. It also increases reliability and capacity for programs by providing backup systems and devices. The type of distributed system refers to the structure and communication style used by the network to complete tasks and organize stored information on multiple servers and devices.

Related: Distributed Systems Engineering: A Definitive Guide

4 distributed systems types

Planning and creating a distributed system for a network can differ according to the needs of the organization. Here are four different distributed system types, including a definition and description of the uses for each:

1. Client-server

A client-server distributed system uses a simple communication method where a client sends input to a separate server and the server returns an output response to the client. Client-server interactions often include messaging, data collection and calculations. This structure typically applies to networks with multiple servers and devices with similar abilities and components.

2. Peer-to-peer

A peer-to-peer distributed system type follows a decentralized organization. Each device can operate as both the client and server. Computer network applications use a peer-to-peer system to organize processors that communicate with each other but maintain separate local memory bases. The programs and servers in this network all have the same privileges, access and functions and communicate at the same level without a hierarchy.

Read more: What Is a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Network?

3. Three-tier

A three-tier distributed system uses separate servers and layers for each function of a program. It includes a presentation layer, application layer and data layer. The presentation system contains and displays the user interface. The application layer accesses and processes information from the database. The data tier hosts and stores the database and user information. Three-tier systems allow developers to scale and change each tier without affecting or modifying the entire system.

Related: FAQ: What Are Database Servers and How Do They Work?

4. N-tier

N-tier or multitier distributed systems create separate servers and sections for each function in a network. N-tier systems follow a similar structure to the three-tier system in separating servers into presentation, application and data layers, but an N-tier system can contain any number of functions in a network. This system type occurs in applications, web enterprises and data systems.

Pros of distributed systems

Here are some pros of implementing a distributed system architecture for your organization:

Fault tolerance

Using a distributed system structure increases the fault tolerance of your program. When one server or device encounters an issue, the other systems can detect the issue and perform the function independently. Using multiple devices with the same capabilities and programming backup procedures allows for continuous workflow, even when problems arise in one area.

Horizontal scaling

As an application or program grows and intakes larger quantities of data, it becomes necessary to scale the programs and database to fit its needs. A distributed system allows you to add new devices or servers that increase the capacity and operations of a network. The structure of a distributed system provides the ability to create and implement new processes easily and at any time.

Efficient computing

Creating a distributed system structure increases the efficiency and speed of computing functions and processes. Using multiple servers in a synchronized workflow allows each component to operate at a greater speed by limiting the data and processes stored and performed by a single server or device. Distributed systems benefit large-scale operations or processes by expediting and performing complex functions efficiently.

Flexible function

Distributed systems increase the flexibility of computer programs and large-scale functions. Having multiple servers that adapt and communicate to provide different functions depending on the network's needs allows programmers to make changes and adjust settings easily. The versatility of each device in a distributed system structure makes the operations flexible and allows for customization of the input and output for a function.

Related: How To Become a System Architect

Cons of distributed systems

Here are some cons of using a distributed system architecture for your network:

Data integration

Using a system with multiple elements that depend on synchronized communication requires accurate data integration and input. Ensuring that the processes, functions and changes in a distributed system remain consistent can present a challenge. Professionals with a high level of programming knowledge and skills have the ability to create and maintain effective and consistent network systems.

Complex setup

Creating, developing and establishing a distributed system requires time, labor and resources. Setting up a complex network can have a high initial cost. For organizations that rely on accurate, efficient and constant computing functions, the benefits and stability of an effective distributed system often outweigh the startup costs over time.

Security risks

A distributed system includes multiple servers, devices, databases and connections. Each of these components introduces the possibility of security breaches and issues. The greater number of vulnerabilities increases the security risk of the information and data within a network. Implementing greater security measures and running continuous protection programs on each server can help ensure that each server and point of contact remain as secure as possible.

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