The 'publisher' refers to the server that is the first node in the cluster, and contains the writeable copy of the config DB.
The 'subscribers' are the second, and all other nodes which just contain a replicated copy of the DB (hence the publisher/subscriber name; they are references to SQL replication roles).
Aside from the DB differences, it's common for the subscribers to perform 'active' call processing duties, and the publisher to be used for admin, and possibly as a 'fallback' for call processing on small clusters.
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