An Introduction to Cloud Computing
Although cloud computing’s popularity has surged and opened up limitless possibilities, many people still are unaware of what cloud computing is or how it can benefit them.
Cloud computing functions by storing a file or library of files remotely, allowing a user to upload his or her files to a remote server. Most cloud services are accessible through a user’s web browser, while others require the use of a feature-dedicated desktop or mobile app installed on a remote machine and accessed locally. This allows the user access to programs without the need to store them on their local machine. Although this form is more frequently seen in business uses, it also extends to individuals.
While cloud services are just getting under way, there are a number of services already available to consumers that use the cloud. Apple’s iCloud services let users store and access photos, music, movies and documents across a variety of devices. Similarly, Google Music allows its users to upload their music and then stream it to any number of devices.
There are also dedicated pieces of hardware on the market that rely on the cloud for their content. Google’s Chromebooks are an example of this. Laptops have just started to hit the market in the last year, and rely on the cloud for virtually everything on the machine. Once the user turns on the computer, he or she can access the Chrome browser in less than a minute. From there, all of their files can be accessed by way of the Chromebook. The OnLive gaming service is another example of computer hardware relying on the cloud. Instead of purchasing games on a disc, which is the traditional format for gaming, OnLive lets users stream just the game. Images from the game being played on a remote computer are sent to the user’s computer screen allowing the players to interact with each other.
These services and hardware are just the tip of the iceberg. Now that storage is cheap and broadband is accessible to the masses in most parts of the world, cloud computing will continue to grow in popularity. It’s not out of the question for the cloud to soon become the primary way that users access their files and applications.
The Future of Cloud Computing
Cloud computing offers several advantages for both businesses and individuals. Over the past 10 years, advancements in technology have allowed broadband speed Internet users to store data on central servers. While there are some advantages to maintaining data and computing power onsite, cloud computing provides several powerful incentives for users.
Cloud computing was originally used to store backup data on a central server. This was an arduous and slow process, as early broadband connections provided limited connectivity. New high-speed broadband allows computers to act as thin clients; a central server processes information for a personal computer, and transmits images and sound back to the computer’s screen over the internet.
Cloud gaming services offer a new paradigm for online entertainment. Traditional gaming takes place on consoles connected to a television screen. These consoles are updated every four to six years with new equipment. All the computing and processing power is handled inside the console.
With cloud gaming, a small video receiver hooked up to a computer monitor or television screen transmits mouse and keyboard movements over the Internet to a central server. This server holds the user’s personal information, data files and settings. The central cloud computer processes and interprets the user’s inputs and transmits a live video feed back to the user. The user owns a small transmission and reception box with a mouse and keyboard, and so does not need a personal computer or gaming console.
Cloud computing allows a user to have access to the newest technology and high-end games. It’s possible to access thousands of games instantly in high definition. In addition, the user never has to upgrade his or her computer. The video receiver and controller transmitter don’t need upgrading over time. In addition, these simple systems cost less than a new computer.
Many graphics companies use cloud computing for rendering animations. A rendering computer can cost thousands of dollars and require constant upgrading. A server-based rendering solution lets users purchase computer processing time as needed, minimizing the need to the purchase hardware that may become redundant over time. In addition, cloud computing gives users access to the latest in hardware and software technology.
Security Concerns with Cloud Computing
When looking into security concerns involved with cloud computing, issues arise for those who provide software, infrastructure and data storage services, as well as for users of such services. Ultimately, the provider is responsible for security.Clients should evaluate the security offered, to ensure their personal information and applications are protected by up-to-date methods.
With specific security risks some concerns may involve data protection, identity management, physical and personnel security, availability, application security and privacy. While some of these potential vulnerabilities may flow into each other, each must be addressed as a separate problem.
Providers must be able to ensure that each client’s information is separately held. Protection must be achieved while the information is idle, as well as when transferred to the client. By segregating information like this, data leaks can be mitigated, preventing unwanted monitoring of private information. Implementation of a federation or SSO technology also allows each provider to develop a unique identity management system further enhancing security.
Physical security of a provider’s infrastructure, such as servers and the personnel that use them must be considered. Achieving this requires a system that restricts personnel access to equipment and customer information by documenting who has access, along with when.
Cloud providers are also expected to provide applications that have been secured by procedures that test application codes. As applications change and new code is implemented, providers must ensure no security issues have been created which could allow the client’s information to be stolen.
Masking private information about customers is imperative as well. Billing, credit card information, account activity and all other personal information must be compartmentalized and used only by personnel who need access to such information. Security applications and programs can be implemented and updated on regular basis.
Both clients and cloud service providers have a stake in the security of their cloud system. Providers must constantly change and update their security to provide optimal protection at all times. Clients should evaluate the protocols offered, being aware of all potential security risks.