Cloud Computing: A Cloudy World
There has been a thunderstorm of growing noise surrounding Cloud Computing in the past 24 months. Vendors, analysts, journalists and membership groups have all rushed to cover the Cloud medium – although everyone seems to have their own opinion and differing definition of cloud computing. According to the most common definition, it is Internet-based computing where shared resources, software and information are supplied to users on demand, rather like a utility company would supply electricity, water or gas. The term is not new; vendors such as Salesforce.com have provided Cloud services in different guises for many years. Other players have been swift to get on board, including Microsoft, HP, IBM, Amazon and Google, to name but a few. Put simply, users now have the choice of a new way to consume computing power, applications and data. No longer is it necessary to buy software on a floppy disk or a CD. Instead, you can have immediacy of delivery through the Internet for an application you want now. Users have been educated into this way of working with iTunes and app stores, and they’ve come to expect a seamless link between their locally run application and data and information from the Internet – and at a very digestible and economic price point. Buying a robust, polished application or game for below £1 is now taken for granted.
As an average user you are also likely to be using cloud computing in the form of webmail, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and a plethora of other services; storing what you would consider private information in the Cloud without knowing where it is in reality… or even caring. In effect, Cloud has become a very simple and trendy way of describing all things that occur outside the firewall whether it be on a corporate network or on your home PC. And Cloud computing is already helping to shape the way we digest IT both at home and in the workplace. It is simply a new ‘form factor’, a new way of delivering a solution to a customer. We have seen new form factors disrupting and changing many market sectors already. Think of Blockbuster Video, once the darling of the entertainment world and now struggling to survive against the new delivery factors of Netflix and LOVEFiLM. Tower Records, once a worldwide brand, has been put out of business by the ability for users to now purchase music faster and cheaper via iTunes and online music stores.
The same trends are occurring in computing. The extraordinary speed at which Cloud computing has come to dominate the landscape has caught many by surprise. None deny it is the Zeitgeist for 2010 when looking back at the past year. With bold press statements such as “Cloud computing will boost UK economy by £30bn a year” grabbing headlines, it’s no wonder it is at the centre of so much discussion and scepticism. With Cloud computing expected to enjoy an adoption rate and growth of between 30 to 40 per cent per year, every year for the next five years, vendors are rushing to launch and push their cloud offerings. From a customer point of view, it is obviously a good thing to have more choices – although you should be aware that in reality there is a wide range of maturity levels amongst vendors, with some of them taking their first steps and looking for their first few candidates for experimental purposes. The major brands, Microsoft, Google, HP, etc are all endorsing cloud as key to their future (Microsoft recently announced the majority of its developers have been moved to its cloud platform), and in both business and at home it will certainly change the way we do so many things. Cloud computing offers substantial benefits including efficiencies, innovation acceleration, cost savings and greater computing power. No more 12-18 month upgrade cycles; huge IT burdens such as system or software updates are delivered automatically with cloud computing and both consumers, small and large organisations can now afford to get access to cutting-edge innovative solutions. Cloud computing also brings green benefits such as reducing carbon footprint and promoting sustainability by utilising computing power more efficiently.
But be warned… There will be some cloud negatives to go with all the positives. For example, with so much reliance on applications and data stored at the Internet level, what happens when you lose your Internet connection, can’t get a mobile 3G connection or the service itself isn’t available for a period? In all cases, due to circumstances outside your control, you cannot access your data, your photos or perform the action when and where you wanted. More worryingly, we have also seen a continued increase in threats coming from the Internet from spam, phishing (fake eBay, bank, etc. e-mails asking you to login in order to steal your details), viruses, spyware and scams. There was more malware on the internet in the last 18 months than the last 18 years combined. Never in the field of internet conflict has so much impact caused by so few to so many. The attackers have gone Cloud and are also utilising the great virtual computing power base to their advantage.
We are already starting to see malware targeting non-PC devices. It’s in its early stages, but it is inevitable we will see more targeting of smartphones, tablets and perhaps even Apple Macintosh as the data that users send to the Cloud becomes more valuable – and the wider range of applications used to access it grows at a rapid rate. Today’s generation of users expect to be able to access their applications from their iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android device, and they expect web-based applications and resources to be readily available to those devices. We are entering a time when seemingly infinite IT power and information is available to a user on the smallest of devices, on the move and at a price affordable to the average consumer. Looking back, who would have expected that in 2011 you could have a 59p application on your phone which could ‘listen’ to a music tune being played in a bar and in seconds, using the internet (accessing massive Cloud power to do the look up and recognition analysis), present to you the details of the track and a ‘click here’ to pay for immediate download of the song!
The chances are that Cloud will accelerate this affordable power still further. Just imagine where we will be in ten years time! With so much happening so fast, the pressure is on IT experts to not only deliver more innovation but also greater security to defend it. As devices get more powerful, the internet faster, the demand and supply of Cloud applications will sky rocket and the power in the hands of the user will be greater than we have ever delivered before. Remember with great power, comes great responsibility and your responsibility is to protect the data, your ID and the information valuable to you. You would not go out and leave your front door open. Therefore, don’t leave your ‘virtual’ front door open when connecting to the internet and such powerful applications. By all means be a Cloud user, but be safe and be secure in doing so.
By Ian Moyse