Ascent of the Cloud: Cloud Computing Overview
The ability to access software applications over the internet in a fast, reliable, and cost-efficient way has been a significant change of momentum for organizations seeking a competitive edge in today’s IT-integrated industry. Cloud services is the on-demand delivery of compute power, database storage, applications, and other IT resources through a cloud services platform via the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing (“What is cloud computing” n.d.). These over-the-net metered services have enticed many organizations to make the inevitable migration to the cloud. Among its many benefits, the development and deployment of overly expensive IT infrastructure is no longer a necessity for organizations. Mansuri and Rathore (2014) state “There is no need to setup, configure and manage large physical installations of hardware and networks. This technology allows much more efficient computing by centralizing storage, memory, processing and bandwidth.” This new paradigm has the potential to equip organizations with the capacity to leverage core operations at a more than adequate level. Traditional computing is nearing its end. Cloud computing has promised a new era of on-demand services with the elasticity to support growth and innovation. Cost reduction, flexibility, and elasticity are just some of the many benefits that makes Cloud Computing the new benchmark for organization’s IT solution.
Basic Elements of Cloud Computing
As early as 1969, a chief scientist by the name of Leonard Kleinrock, one of the original members of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), explained that as computer networks become more mature, they would be more sophisticated, eventually ushering in the dissemination of computer utilities that could be serviced across the country, comparable to electricity or telephone services (Buyya, Selvi, & Vecchiola, 2013.) Kleinrock had successfully predicted what we now refer to as “Cloud Computing”. Rountree, Derrick, Castrillo, and Lleana (2014) give a simple definition of the cloud, “The cloud is a service or group of services”. For some, that definition can be confusing. The word “cloud” itself is also a bit ambiguous if we are to be fair. Daylami (2015) states “The word ‘cloud’ in cloud computing informs very little, and it may even misinform.” However, for others, cloud solutions bridge core business operations at a significantly cheaper, more reliable, and convenient cost. People using the cloud need not own expensive IT infrastructure, but rather pay for the services they need from a third party at a pay-as-you-go pricing. The rapid success of the cloud has reverberated across the globe. Now a lot of companies seek new opportunities through its services. A research study by Columbus (2016) found that in 2016 alone, an unprecedented $38 billion dollars was forecast to be spent on public cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) with an expectation of more than quadrupling in 2026. With the cloud, data can be accessed wherever there is an internet connection. Reach (2014) says that “The ease of access to data is one of the big reasons that moving to the Cloud has become popular so quickly.” He further explains that it significantly trumps the old way of storing and accessing data on CD, DVD, and Thumb Drives. These days, people are connected to the internet wherever they go, sometimes even having several devices that connect them. The ability to be able to take your software with you from work, to the house, and even travel across the globe is what makes the cloud so ubiquitous and convenient.
For a company to be cloud-based, there must be three main components: five key cloud characteristics, four cloud deployment models, and three cloud service models (Rountree et al.,2014). These essential characteristics are defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service (Rountree et al., 2014).
Key Cloud Characteristics
Broad network access. Broad network access means that services should be easily accessed to provide ease of use for the users. Rountree et al. (2014) explains that, “Users should only be required to have a basic network connection to connect to services or applications.”
Resource pooling. The resource pooling characteristics helps save costs and allows flexibility on the provider side (Rountree et al.,2014). With resource pooling, the need for clients to have all resources available to them is no longer necessary because of the scalability of the cloud, only paying for the services being used.
Rapid elasticity. Rapid elasticity is needed by all organizations, because without it, the cloud wouldn’t be as potent as it is. Cloud services should have the elasticity to expand with an organization with the capability of handling all demands. Rountree et al. (2014) said that, “Cloud deployments should already have the needed infrastructure in place to expand the service capacity.”
Measured service. Finally, cloud services should also be able to measure usage at any given time while being implemented. “Usage can be quantified using various metrics, such as time used, bandwidth used, and data used. The measured service characteristics are what enables the ‘pay as you go’ feature of cloud computing” (Rountree et al.,2014).
It is important for organizations to know what services they are paying for while selecting the right metrics to measure the services being used.
Cloud Service Models
There are three types of Cloud Computing that can be offered for services. These services are, Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Depending on which services are needed, organizations can utilize any of these cloud services at any given time. Amazon, one of the leaders in the IT industry, adopted the cloud in its earlier stages and has been very successful providing cloud solutions using these three models.
Software as a service (SaaS). Software as a Service provides users with software products that are offered over the internet. “Types of Cloud Computing” (n.d.) explains that “With a SaaS offering you do not have to think about how the service is maintained or how the underlying infrastructure is managed; you only need to think about how you will use that particular piece software.” This is what makes this service so desirable to organizations. An example of SaaS would be Dropbox. This very popular software allows its users to store and access files from any device with an internet connection. The SaaS vendor simply assumes the responsibility for the software. That means the occasional updates to fix bugs, the servers, and the entire infrastructure used to support the software is their concern.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This is one of the most basic categories of cloud computing services, allowing customers to rent infrastructure, Virtual Machines (VM), storage, networks, and operating systems over a network at a pay-as-you-go basis. (“Types of Cloud Computing”, n.d.) This is especially attractive, because it offers services that people are already accustomed to, allowing them to avoid having to retrain. An example of IaaS is the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, or as they call it, the Amazon EC2. Amazon assures that this service “reduces the time required to obtain and boot new server instances to minutes, allowing you to quickly scale capacity, both up and down, as your computing requirements change” (Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) – Cloud Server & Hosting – AWS., n.d.).
Platform as a service (PaaS). With PaaS, there is no need to build IT infrastructure to develop and deploy applications. The PaaS vendor instead supplies the development environment along with the resources to get you up and running in no time. Several vendors that offer PaaS are “AWS – EC2, OpenShift, Microsoft Azure, Salesforce App Cloud: Heroku Enterprise, and Salesforce App Cloud: Force.com” (Best Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) Software in 2017., n.d.). More and more organizations are setting up their own platforms to provide services which ultimately increase competition that drive down prices.
The cloud deployment models constitute the varying services that are assessable to satisfy the needs of organizations. Each of the models carry its own benefits and organizations can choose what best works for them, whether networking, platform, storage, or infrastructure. These four cloud deployment models are described below, which are: public, private, community, and hybrid (Rountree et al.,2014).
Public. In the public cloud service model, all the systems and resources that provide the service are stationed at an external service provider (Rountree et al., 2014). With this service, users do not have to worry about the maintenance, management, or administration of the systems being utilized but instead only worry about the application they use on their end.
Private. In the case of the private cloud, and unlike its public counterpart, companies providing the services and resources are located internally (Rountree et al.,2014). The private cloud is responsible for the offering of services, the scalability of its resources, and the over-the network applications that is installed on the systems of those that use it. This is also much more secure than the public because they do the management and administration of the services.
Community. With the utilization of the community clouds, resources are shared between members of a select group of organizations sharing common interests (Rountree et al.,2014). They share the infrastructure as well as the management of the cloud services and its responsibilities.
Hybrid. The hybrid cloud consists of more than one cloud model. Organizations may choose to implement more than one of the models to fit their business needs, by using their physical device with the cloud services. “Types of Cloud Computing”, (n.d.) defines it as a way “To connect infrastructure and applications between cloud-based resources and existing resources that are not located in the cloud.” This model allows flexibility and provides more security over the data and applications installed on the organization’s systems.
What to Consider Before Using the Cloud
For more than obvious reasons, organizations all over the globe are adapting the cloud and using its agile services to build IT strategies. Based on an article by Baker (2017) the cloud “Gives an organization the ability to focus more closely on their core business.” With the incentive to improve productivity by streamlining a company’s core operation through the cloud, it is easier now than ever to design, develop, and deploy products to the market at a faster and efficient rate. The beauty of the cloud lies in the fact that it supplements the ingredients that are required to give organizations the necessary platforms tailored to their needs, with some of the best support services at their disposal. But before organizations decide to take the leap to the cloud, Evenstad (2016) advises, “To reap the rewards of cloud, you must get the essentials right. Do you go for private cloud? A hybrid environment? What in-house systems do you keep? How do you ensure your data is secure?” He also states, “Before jumping onto the bandwagon and moving your data to the cloud, you should take stock of your overall framework and heritage estate” (Evenstad, 2016). For organizations to bask in the potential glory of the cloud, knowing what sector of the operations to outsource becomes the critical question. Getting everyone involved in the migration process is a great way to transition to the cloud. According to Evenstad (2016) “It’s far better to come up with a roadmap of the key systems you want and look at how you can re-engineer them because the capabilities offered from the cloud are far beyond the capabilities we had when [our systems] were built.” There is a plethora of unique services offered through the cloud, each with the ability to be aligned and cultivated to fit the needs of an organization. It is up to those organizations to know if they want public, private, or hybrid cloud services and how it will ultimately affect their IT and business requirements. Once an organization does its due diligence and has decided what services to implement from the cloud, then the opportunities will become transparent
Another way for organizations to get their feet wet, would be to only use the cloud for some of the operations in the company. This way, they can assess whether the cloud is the best method that works for them or if they need to opt out and seek other alternatives. The cloud offers several different technologies that organizations must familiarize themselves with when purchasing services, which are: virtualization, distributed services, programming model, and data management.
Virtualization. Cloud services are offered through virtualization over an internet network. Mansuri and Rathore (2014) explains:
It separates the different levels of the application system including hardware, software, data, networking, storage and so on, breaks the division among the data center, servers, storage, networking, data and the physical devices, realize dynamic architecture, and achieves the goals of managing centralized and use dynamically the physical resources and virtual resources, improving the flexibility of the system, reducing the cost, improving the service and reducing the risk of management.
Distributed Services. The cloud adopts this service to store mass data and ensure its credibility for organizations looking to store information. Mansuri and Rathore (2014) state that “the reliability of stored data and using high credible software to make up the readability of the hardware, therefore providing the cheap and credible mass distributed storage and computing system.”
Parallel programming model. The parallel programming model enables users to use the cloud and its resources by adopting the Map Reduce programming model. Mansuri and Rathore (2014) explain that it, “decomposes the task into multiple subtasks, and through two steps (Map and Reduce) to realize scheduling and allocation in the large-scale node. Map Reduce is a parallel programming system developed by Google.”
Data management. Because cloud computing must be able to process and analyze a lot of data, the importance of data management becomes obvious. Mansuri and Rathore (2014) states how these data are ordered, “Data items are ordered according to the sequence of keyword in the dictionary, with each row dynamically delivered to Tablets. To ensure the high scalability of data structure, adopts three-level hierarchical way to store location information.”
How Organizations Benefit from The Cloud
Williams (2010) states that “Cloud computing offers some businesses considerable financial benefits, technological benefits, and operational benefits, and can provide an opportunity for competitive advantage over others.” The advantageous elements of the cloud have been proven to be rewarding to many organizations. Cloud providers assume the responsibility of the hardware and software installation, upgrades, maintenance, backup, data storage, and security (Garrison, Kim, & Wakefield, 2012). Employees are also an expense for organizations since employers must pay insurances, taxes, wages, etc. With the cloud, employers do not have to hire a host of IT staff to maintain their hardware and software. Cloud providers assume that responsibility. Garisson et al. (2012) also states that “Cloud computing enables organizations to lower IT capital expenditures, as well as operating and maintenance costs, while redirecting resources toward core business activities, turning cloud computing into an IT related strategy for competitive advantage.” Another great benefit the cloud offers, is the ability for users to only pay for the services they use. That means that an organization can scale up or down if it needs to. It is no longer necessary to have a wide range of costly in-house IT infrastructure that must be updated, upgraded or monitored. Williams (2010) argues that the elasticity and the scalability of the cloud can support unpredictable cycles of expansion or contraction that inevitably happen in the business world. This is a great benefit, especially for small organizations that want to know that they can expand at a fraction of the cost. These organizations utilizing the cloud also possess the ability to circumvent the eventual tax burdens that come with computing hardware, which are considered as capital on their balance sheet. Cloud services are considered as operation expenditure, accumulating no assets, which Williams (2010) explains as “An important consideration for many businesses.” These benefits that the cloud provides to organizations are tools that primes an organization for success. However, while the benefits are advantageous for organizations to understand, the true ability of the cloud lies within the success of its deployment, not its implementation. Garisson et al. (2012) state “Deployment supersedes implementation, because merely utilizing the services of a cloud vendor does not by itself differentiate an organization from its competitors.” So, while the benefits of the cloud are causing a frenzy among organizations, it is the organizations that make the best out of the services that come out on top in its investments to the cloud. These are only a few of the many benefits that the cloud offer that enables differentiation between competing industries.
Security Risk in Cloud Computing
While most organizations are faithfully looking towards the cloud to support the heavy workload of their organizations, some are still hesitant to take the plunge and for acceptable reasons. Garisson et al. (2012) explain that even though the cloud possesses a lot of benefits, organizations still face obstacles adopting its services. These obstacles are, “Uncoordinated adoption by stakeholders, inadequate business and technical acumen, and data security.” What’s important to note here is, if organizations are not realistic about their goals and objectives, they might fall short of the expectations they acquired the services to do. Rountree et al. (2014) reiterated what was brought up at the beginning of this research paper, and calls it “One of the most pressing issues that have kept people from moving to the cloud”, which is understanding exactly what the cloud is and what it offers. The ambiguity of the cloud is potentially its biggest drawback from being completely adopted across the board. People that operate highly successful organizations are very wary of the directions they take their companies, and without complete and utter understanding, they will likely not take on unnecessary risks. Another concern is Service Level Agreements or SLAs. There are many cloud services providers that are just not at the point of offering truly substantive SLAs (Rountree et al., 2014). Some of these cloud service providers don’t provide SLAs at all. This means that if an organization need 24/7 availability for their applications, without an SLA, if anything happens that interrupts service, then the provider will not be held liable. Security is also a major concern that holds back some organizations from migrating to the cloud. This is due in part to data from many organizations being sent to the cloud to be stored on servers. These data can be trade secrets, imperative to the success and differentiation to organizations among many different industries. Not to mention, having corporate data stored off-site will keep a lot of people up at night. Some organizations are just not ready to risk it, especially since many sophisticated hackers have broken into some of their most seemingly impenetrable firewalls and circumvent other security strategies.
Cloud computing has hit the mainstream and organizations are reaping the benefits. This emerging paradigm shift has been tested and proven to improve the productivity of organizations at a mere fraction of the price, through its metered services. There are three basic services associated with the cloud (SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS). To utilize these services, organizations have the responsibility to become familiar with the know-how and the advantages associated with it. Comprehension is imperative if organizations are to gain an advantageous edge from development to deployment while using the cloud service models. The transition to the cloud can be a lot more simplified if cloud customers are prepared in advance and thoroughly plan the implementation or else they risk falling short of expectations. Some organizations may better benefit by constructing their own private cloud, though some of the most desirable benefits, like avoiding a high upfront cost and being able to quickly develop and deploy, will be forfeited.
Though the cloud has a lot of advantages, there are organizations that are still skeptical of its security, after-all, the cloud stores data over the internet, which is highly unsecure. It is up to cloud providers like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon, to assure the skeptics that their interest would be protected at all angles. These days almost everyone uses cloud computing in one way or another. Whether it is used to compute payroll at an organization, or simply to check emails. The migration to the cloud has been started, and customers and providers alike can share its many benefits.
If you have any questions, are curious about cloud computing or have current cloud needs give us a call at Datahal LLC.