Posts Tagged ‘cloud computing’
Cloud computing is reshaping the computing and Internet landscape. With breakthroughs made in relevant service and business models, cloud computing will inevitably expand its role as a backbone for IT services. As a revolutionary concept, its technological realization is set to change the way people work and live.
Key elements of cloud computing
Cloud computing involves three key elements, namely, resource pooling, capability supply, and the service model. As a process, the cloud provider concentrates a mass of resources and seamlessly provides them for users. These three elements are described below:
Various kinds of resources are converged to form a cloud. Though a revolutionary concept, this already exists in practice in various forms. Search engines construct a “search cloud” by prearranging and converging all available information on the Internet so that the user can quickly get the search result. The highly popular taobao.com centralizes and converges online stores to form a “cloud” market much in the same way that a traditional shopping mall converges physical stores. Moreover, if we converge video data collected from myriad video cameras installed on city streets to provide VOD, we can establish a “cloud view”.
What does a cloud bring us? To be called a cloud, it must supply computing and processing capabilities and share resources. In the early 1990s, we researched computing capability supply with a focus on presenting storage space and databases and interfaces for delivering their storage and search functions. Converged resources and computing capabilities are useless without a supply channel in the same way that taobao.com would be useless without a shopping platform to enable transactions.
The “as a service” (aaS) model is gaining popularity in the computing world. It is about services, not technologies, for users usually care about the services they are getting, not the technologies or resources involved. For example, we initially bought full-priced software and prepared necessary resources for it, no matter whether we would use it or not. Later, we shared software on the Internet at a lower cost without needing to prepare resources on the client though a fixed cost was still incurred for the usage over a certain period of time. With cloud computing, we can directly use the software function (the service) provided by the cloud even without knowing the software, on a pay-per-use basis without an awareness of the software involved.
Many similar applications exist to convert available capabilities and resources into the services required by users. Users care about software functions but not where the software is installed, which has spawned “Software as a Service” (SaaS). Equally, users are interested in storage space size, but not storage mechanics. This has given us “Software testing as a Service” (StaaS). Users want their requests to be satisfied, but are not concerned with the process, creating “Platform as a Service” (PaaS). Finally, users are concerned with the availability of computing systems, not the infrastructure through which they are implemented. This has brought about “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS).
Cloud computing security
Cloud computing changes personal and enterprise computing models in a way that makes information security as relevant as it is for online banking services. Though cloud computing has been applied to network security, it remains to be seen whether its architecture is an information trap that is ripe for misuse or exploitation. To provide secure services, cloud computing must address this issue at the following three levels:
How does cloud security work?
In the current networking environment, client-based Trojan checks are increasingly discredited as a solution. To check malicious codes, security vendors need a cloud computing platform where an inbuilt cloud security system pre-scans web pages and immediately informs the user of a page’s safety. The advantage of cloud security is its ability to scan all web pages using large-scale computing capabilities. For end users, the web is only one danger source; others include emails and USBs, though the cloud security system does not apply to users who do not wish to publish their personal information.
However, the cloud security system has a fatal weakness–its over-reliance on transmission channels. User information and resources are handed over to the cloud for processing and transmission and security depends on the internal transmission channels. In order for cloud computing to unleash its potential, cloud service providers must work with broadband service providers to build a broadband transmission system appropriate for cloud services. A recommended solution involves the integration of the cloud security system into telecom networks so that the former scans web pages and the latter sends risk alerts.
Is the cloud itself safe?
The cloud must be open to provide service. Openness usually leads to vulnerability, though. So it is a problem how to protect the cloud against attacks and ensure that the cloud provides services continuously. The recent system crash at Amazon web services, the cloud service provider, caused Twitter and other prominent websites to fail. If this type of crash causes loss of user data, users will doubt the security of cloud computing. Solutions may include backups and additional monitoring, both of which should provide vital areas for future research.
How does the cloud ensure user security?
In the cloud, the security level of user routines is not analyzed, nor is data copied, in order to protect business secrets and personal data of users. Cloud services can be widely used only when they are reliable. However, unlike investigating a retailer before buying products from it, cloud service users cannot check the reliability of a cloud because they do not know which part of the cloud is serving them. If users transmit encrypted data, the user routines will be inefficient.
The openness of a cloud may render it a malicious tool. Currently, harmful Internet activities require the control of the terminal. For example, phishing requires fake sites that look and feel almost identical to legitimate ones, and Trojans require network controllers. The cloud model opens up new possibilities for criminal and malicious behavior.
Economics of cloud computing
The rationale behind the cloud model and the idea behind resource provision is flexibility. For example, a user requires 10,000 computers as nodes to work at a full load for a couple of months but for the rest of the year requires only 5% to 20% of these nodes. Such a user can apply for 200 to 1,000 nodes for normal operation and 10,000 nodes in the peak period.
To ensure security, some existing cloud systems provide exclusive private resources for users at certain costs that basically equal those required to own these resources. This solution obviously goes against the economics of cloud computing, making it unnecessary for users to apply for resources in the cloud. It remains a subject of debate and research whether this is in fact a cloud model.
Despite its increasing popularity, there are still quite a few grey areas when it comes to cloud computing.
We love YouTube and with just reason. A recent video shows people being asked what they thought cloud computing was. Among many rib-tickling ones, the most popular was: “Computers that must float on parachutes up in the clouds or maybe dirigibles”.
Getting the basics right
These days, everyone comfortably uses the term ‘cloud computing’, but very few seem to know what it really means.
Basant Narayan Singh, a full-time software developer and part-time technology blogger (Techno Pulse) says, “Students often write to me asking, “Which language or technology should I learn if I want to build a career in cloud computing?” They need to know that the cloud is not a standalone technology but a style of computing.”
The way people and companies, big and small, define the cloud at the moment is also quite vague. “A common user may be interested in SaaS (Software as a Service) whereas a developer would love to play around with PaaS (Platform as a Service),” says Singh. On the other hand, some solution providers are only talking about IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) when talking about the cloud. The quintessential example is a company that outsources its IT needs, doing away with the hassle of servers, storage space and networking in its own premises. They turn to cloud solutions companies who give them flexible, customised plans or bill them according to usage.
One such company is Netmagic Solutions whose cloud computing, managed hosting and application services are headed by Karan Kirpalani, GM, Product Management.
“The perception that the cloud isn’t as secure as a traditional dedicated server or collocation environment is the biggest misconception about the cloud today,” says Karan. If anything, identities now offering cloud solutions believe that the cloud is a much more secure set-up than a physical one. “A quality IaaS solution from a reputed Public Cloud services provider will most likely offer greater levels of availability, security, and performance than what most organisations are capable of deploying in traditional physical hosting environments.”
At Dell World 2011, held recently in Austin, it was mentioned during a presentation that people who are yet to take the plunge into cloud computing are holding back due to their apprehensions about how secure a platform it is to put their data in to.
Rehan yar Khan, founder and CEO of Remindo, a company that provides enterprise social softwares (focused on employee engagement and productivity related tools), says, “Many people think data is not secure on cloud software because it does not reside on your own server or hard disk. But, secure cloud software typically uses the same technology on the web as your online banking account.”
Basant Singh believes the hesitation to make the jump to the cloud due to security reasons “has more to do with the human tendency to resist change than the actual security provided. On any given day, the Googles and Microsofts of the world will have better data security measures in place than anything a generic company can ever think of. You are looking at a specialist versus generalists.”
How much money do you need to take that first step to cloud computing? And even if it’s a minimal, usage-based fee, is it economical in the long run?
“Cloud based software while low on upfront cost, does not lower total IT costs for an organisation.” This pre-conceived notion keeps a lot of people from considering cloud solutions as an option. Switching to “SaaS software is not only economical to acquire but also curtails IT-related capital expenditure by way of eliminating infrastructure, manpower and maintenance costs. The total cost of ownership in this scenario is much lower and also allows you to add additional capacity on the fly, minimising wastage related to excess hardware or software capacity,” Khan says.
A majority of the exodus to the cloud includes SMBs who find it economical and a low-risk move to try out cloud solutions. But what about established organisations which have complicated systems to maintain and need to protect their security?
According to Khan, “SaaS is now a common delivery model for most business applications, including accounting, collaboration, customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, invoicing, and human resources management. Centralised hosting of business applications has been around since the 1960s with IBM and other mainframe service providers. Salesforce.com, for example, is used by 85,000 organisations, 2 million users and has over $1.6 billion in revenue.”
At Dell World, we were told about how a major hospital chain in India had moved part of its infrastructure to the cloud. Sensitive information like the medical history and treatment that each patient has undergone – information that could be of need even 10-15 years down the line, is quite a hassle to maintain if stored in physical records. Moving these to the cloud not only makes the information accessible to doctors across all branches of the hospital but also reduces the footprint and its susceptibility to damage or loss in a physical storage facility.
Many companies, who might not see the desired results after testing the waters in the cloud, have the choice of opting out. But, what happens to their data?
“A lot of people seem to think that extricating yourself from the cloud is a difficult process,” says Karan. “Most IaaS contracts don’t bind you for long periods of time. The typical notice period is just a month. And all you need to do is terminate the virtual machines after migrating your data away. Certain providers even assist with data migration activities.” This means your data’s nowhere ‘up there’ on the cloud once you choose not to.
Dell World 2011 saw software leaders from around the world converge to talk about enterprise cloud solution and how the line between business and IT is slowly disappearing. Steve Schuckenbrock, President of Dell Services, the global IT services and business solutions unit of Dell, talked to eWorld, about the myths surrounding cloud computing which he thought needed to be busted.
He believes in the promise of the cloud but his answer was quite unexpected. Steve says cloud computing is “no silver bullet”. “A lot of people seem to think that cloud computing will solve all their problems. But there’s a long way to go before that can happen.”