Majority of the computer systems utilises a local computer for application and data software. Cloud computing is a relatively new term in the field of computer systems and as such, it still lacks a clear and strict definition while in use in various contexts. Technological changes have been noted as a leading cause for the complexity in defining the term. Nonetheless, cloud computing can be defined as the management and provision of applications, information and data on consumption-based model. In cloud computing, applications and data reside in a remote server where the users access these via the internet/network. According to a Sun white paper, what distinguishes cloud computing from previous models of computing is the fact that it involves the use of information technology as a service over the network. In light of this, there is the need to evaluate what cloud computing is, how it works, where and how it is used, its effects on different areas, its benefits, its cons and the issues that arise as a result of its usage.
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How does cloud computing work? The basic infrastructure of cloud computing consists of local personal computers, network infrastructure and remote servers. Clients’ PCs are connected to virtual servers via the network. Clients work on the local personal computers (Rittinghouse 39). The personal computer may have low specifications (RAM size, processor speed etc) since nothing is stored locally. Through these PCs, the users access the data and the processing services from the remote servers over the internet. There are a number of components in cloud computing and these include virtualization, open source software and on-demand deployment (Sun 2).
Cloud computing is used in various areas and for various purposes and for this reason different users use cloud computing for different reasons (Vaquero, Caceres and Lindner 1108). For example, a firm may use cloud computing to ensure a faster and more powerful server to perform its data processing, to secure large quantities of data, to clone applications in order to handle a sudden workload and so on. Cloud computing affects enterprises, users and software firms in various ways. For instance, it can transform the way applications are designed, built and delivered. In a traditional model, the users buy software and install it into the local machine; future updates of the software can then be downloaded and installed into the application. With cloud computing though, the user does not install software; but rather, the software is hosted in a remote virtual server (cloud). The cloud vendor also provides additional services such as security, data recovery facilities ands so on. The updating and maintenance of software are performed directly during the remote installation, and the client is excluded from this process (Weiss 674). Cloud computing also affects data centers. The rationale behind the use of cloud computing technology is that the processing and storage of data often occurs in a non-physical form. Such processing and storage of data is often maintained over the internet by organisations in designated data centres.
An organization that uses cloud computing does not need to have a physical data centre within or outside its premises. Some though still maintain data centres for security measures. Cloud computing affects the way in which data and software services are paid for. It is associated with applications that are considered as ‘Software’, ‘Service’, or ‘Saas’. In this model of software distribution, a service provider or vendor normally houses applications. In turn, the internet is then used to avail the applications to clients. Here, the clients pay for the services, usually at a time based rate or as use based rate.
Just like in any other form of technology, cloud computing has its own advantages and disadvantages. One advantage that cloud computing provides to its users is its low cost. Costs are imperative in any business, non-profit organizations and also to individual consumers. Various companies are currently offering very attractive packages for their cloud based processing systems. One example of these companies is Osprey, a UK company that offers Information management software to law firms, among other products and services. The company is currently offering an Information Management System, at a cost of £185 per month in a package that includes; up to three user licenses of the software product, the engineering set up, hosting of the Software, real time back up at multi locations in UK and automatic disaster recovery, software updating, support services, unlimited online user training and system and data security (Buyya 18). Previously, the offline systems that they offered cost much more and included less services and licences. Another advantage of cloud side computing is that it is capable of solving problems provided by traditional data centres. There are many applications that cannot be run on one set of standard platform configurations. The operational requirements of a majority of the critical applications in cloud computing are quite extreme. Accordingly, the operating environments for such applications calls for specialised adjustments. Accommodating these different application behaviours results in higher costs and increased system management complexity, especially for critical applications. Through the use of new and evolving technologies, cloud computing can harness the power of distributed computing (Vogels 456). According to Tony Bishop, “The promise of cloud computing is providing significantly improved user experience, while balancing cost and efficiency – three critical pillars that must be satisfied for a business to succeed”. With a pay-as-you-go model, users are only charged for the amount of traffic, bandwidth, and memory used. Online businesses become more efficient by only utilizing the storage and space needed, while also being assured capacity for any increase in usage (Menken 231). Other advantages of cloud computing include; increased run time and response time, increased pace of innovation since the low cost of entry to new markets helps to level the playing field, allowing start-up companies to deploy new products promptly and at low cost, increased compatibility where all clients use the same version of software (Bishop 4).
On the other hand, cloud computing comes with some few consequences. Internet connection is mandatory for the system to be useful. In addition, the system cannot be used by firms without network connections, and in case the network goes down, then work cannot be done. Another problem arises with use of peripherals such as printers and scanners. This presents problems especially in using small sized peripherals. The implementation of cloud computing in an organisation requires that a third party provides this service. This is important for purposes of ensuring the information confidentiality and security. When it comes to security issues, handling your own security gives one a sense of confidence as compared to when the security task is entrusted to a third party (Techsuperb 9). Another issue with cloud computing is that the specific location of data is unknown, personal identifiable information can be distorted and any issues that arise may prove to be difficult to investigate, since customers share their hosting space. In addition, the current legal systems have not been developed to handle issues that are presented by cloud computing and other related issues.
One major issue that arises with cloud computing is security. Web based systems face much higher security threats than offline systems. The threats arise from viruses, crackers (usually referred to as hackers) and malware, insider threats among others (Armbrust, Fox, Griffith, Anthony, Katz, Konwinski, Lee, Patterson, Rabkin, Stoica, and Zaharia 47). The security provided to systems and data in cloud computing is very high compared to locally hosted systems. Some analysts therefore insist that data and systems security is better in cloud based systems than in client based systems. On the other hand, others claim that these cannot be definitive since cloud systems face much more diverse security threats.
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Cloud computing is a new technology that is currently viewed as one of the major items in computing. It involves using information technology (data and software services) as a service over the network. Cloud computing has changed the manner in which software is developed, deployed and updated, has influenced how application and data services are paid for, as well as how data centers are designed, the infrastructure on which applications are run and how employees work. Cloud computing is built on existing infrastructures and adds new technologies. It promises lower costs, increased response time and more innovation. It however faces challenges such as insecurity and user acceptability.
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