The Wide World of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is the new buzzword phrasing that seems to be popping up in every business/IT model these days. Because of this, companies are beginning to make the “alternative direction” of cloud computing into the conventional choice of how to run their IT and computing system.

This article is going to take a beginner’s look at the world of cloud computing and how it may positively affect you or your company’s needs in the new world of the cloud.

A Brief History Lesson

Perhaps we should back up a bit. Whereas previously we referred to the cloud computing as new, the concept of this “new” idea actually began back in the 1950s with university and larger corporation usage of large-scale mainframe computers. These mainframes were accessed through “static terminals” that had communication properties but no internal processing capabilities. Then in the beginning of the 1960’s John McCarthy furthered the idea of what he called, “computer utility.” He envisioned that using computers would be part of a public utility; “…Just as the telephone system is a public utility.”

Other experts often point to the “intergalactic computer network” envisioned by J.C.R. Licklider, one of the developers of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), who, in 1969, wanted everyone on earth to be able to access programs and data at any site, from anywhere.

With the advent of the internet and its rise in popularity to the point of nearly everyone carrying it with them on their phones, the phenomenon of cloud computing has taken rise. In 1999, started delivering enterprise applications over a simple website, which in turn led to more and more software firms offering their apps over the internet. Amazon Web Services followed suit, and in 2002, offered cloud storage, computation, and human intelligence with the Amazon Mechanical Turk. Four years later, they started up their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) providing users the ability to rent computers on which they run their own applications.

In 2009, the most recent event happened, as Web 2.0 began. Different internet-based companies began to offer browser-based applications. One example of this is Google Apps.

What Is It?

So what is cloud computing? Basically, the idea has stayed the same since the 1950s, with a few changes in technology. Perhaps the easiest way to explain what cloud computing is, is by giving an example of a corporation’s IT department.

In a corporation, each employee needs the right tools in order to accomplish their job. The IT department makes sure that those employees all have a computer that contains the right hardware and software needed for them to achieve this. On top of that, those employees need all the different software licenses in order to use the different software programs, and so on. These programs need licensure or different types of approval to run. Whenever a new employee is hired, you must then re-purchase a new license or software program so that the new employee can also use those same programs. This is where cloud computing comes in to make life easier for those corporations and employees. Cloud computing makes it that everyone can use the same programs without having to buy new software.

How Does It Work?

The idea of how cloud computing works in the aforementioned situation is very simple: instead of having to buy and install the software for each new employee, you would only need to load one application on the numerous computers being used. This application allows users to log into a web-based service that hosts all the different software and programs that each employee may need to accomplish their tasks.

The software and/or programs that are used are no longer loaded onto every individual’s computer, but rather onto a larger data storage system creating the “cloud.” Employees are able to access this data through a network connection or by simply connecting through the internet. Basically, everything is stored and/or accessed over the internet as opposed to your computer’s hard drive.

There are four different types of cloud offerings and those are infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS), and business process as a service (BPaaS). Each of these services is built on top of each other.

Just like the example of a corporation, cloud computing can work for different individuals in a variety of ways. If you have ever used a web-based e-mail service like Hotmail or Gmail, you’ve been taking advantage of cloud computing. Your computer isn’t running an e-mail program, but rather you’re accessing that e-mail program through your internet.

The Growth of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has become a way for IT to add different capabilities with regards to the end-user experience and increase capacity, all in real time over the internet. With that being said, cloud computing is still at an early stage in development and many providers have begun offering different services through the cloud that vary from system to system.

Other programs you may have used are taking advantage of the cloud system as well. Netflix, Apple, Dropbox, and Amazon are a few of the major companies that are invested in the cloud system allowing you to take their services and products with you wherever you have internet capabilities… i.e.: your smart phone.

Businesses are jumping on the cloud computing bandwagon as well. It is estimated that 69% of companies who currently have a budget for the cloud plan to increase their spending this year. That same study states that the market for cloud computing will continue to increase an additional 36% each year through 2016. Most companies are using four different areas of cloud computing for their businesses and research shows that all of these numbers will steadily increase each year as technology continues to grow and expand leaving the cloud as the only option.

The Pros & Cons of the Cloud World

The main positive aspect of using cloud computing is the accessibility and somewhat ease of use. Through the cloud, you can access used applications and data from anywhere at any time as long as you are linked to the internet. Using a cloud system can also save you money in buying various software and hardware. Corporations are able to minimize IT support due to streamlining their hardware and having less operating systems. Also, since the back end of the cloud system is usually a higher powered grid computing system, speed can be a factor. Something that would have taken a long time to previously process would now take a substantial less time to compute.

With regards to backup and recovery, the process is much easier as the data is now stored on the cloud as opposed to being hosted on a physical device. Because of this reason, deployment of programs and integrating new programs are also faster and easier. Your company can pick and choose which services and/or applications that would be most beneficial to them, rather than having to pick everything in a larger package deal. Should you want more or less programs, hard drive space no longer becomes a concern, as the storage capacity in a cloud system can be almost unlimited in its range. This adds to the reduction of any IT costs that could come from an update or the purchase of new hardware.

The cloud is also environmentally friendly due to the amount of resources it takes to compute, meaning less energy being spent. When the cloud servers are not being used, there is typically some sort of scale down by the server, freeing up the energy and resources being used.

A last advantage to cloud computing is its ease of use. Most cloud applications will be simpler to run as most of the public may already be used to running an example of it. For example, Gmail is a cloud application that many users may already have experience with and find quite simple to control and use in their day to day lives.

On the other end of the spectrum, the biggest concerns in cloud computing are privacy, data loss, and security. If a cloud database isn’t designed properly, hackers wouldn’t necessarily have to go through all the walls and channels to be able to access numerous clients’ data. Data loss is the number two threat with regards to using the cloud. You may lose some flexibility and control that you are accustomed to with a switch over to a cloud network as everything is run through remote, and most of your hardware and software could be running remotely as well.

One other disadvantage with regards to security in the cloud world is the idea of privacy. A company that that uses a remote cloud infrastructure is basically sending away any private data and information that could be sensitive and/or confidential. Again, if the cloud provider has less than reliable security, those same companies may see this sensitive information compromised, including passwords leaked and large amounts of data loss.

Lastly, since cloud computing is largely if not wholly dependent on internet access, if a company were to have any network outages or connectivity issues, your cloud setup would become useless. While it is true that all systems may face a problem or connection issue from time to time, this is another downside to look at. If you’ve chosen a cloud provider that isn’t up to par or if a disaster hits, because you now have your entire system centrally located, you could lose everything.

The End?

There are those who are still suspect of cloud computing. Many believe that since we have worked directly from the local hard drive for the past few decades that we should continue in this manner. Cloud computing may not be as fast and it may not be worth the cost of local storage and access. Since different media companies now control the access to whatever you are using cloud services for, many are concerned that putting all your faith in that company’s access could cost you in the long run.

Companies also continue to find out different ways to charge for cloud access, whether that is metering your service or the bandwidth you’ve used. Customers of cloud sites have also expressed concerns over intellectual property and who owns the data that is stored online. For example, can the photos you’ve shared on Facebook be used as part of the company’s marketing scheme? Who owns the photos you’re sharing on their website?

There are many different ways that cloud computing can affect your company and even your home computer usage as it continues to grow in popularity and through ideas of use. It seems that cloud computing is falling away from being just a trend and is now just a part of the new normal.

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