What is Cloud Computing

What is Cloud Computing

Cloud computing can be defined as anything that is sent out or done over a network using servers and hosts that are not used in house, or on the premises.   Cloud computing can be as simple as having storage on Google Drive, or some e-books on Kindle’s Cloud reader.  In fact, when you log into any Google application, you are using cloud computing.  The more complicated version is when you rent or subscribe to use other computers via the internet.

For example, instead of purchasing a slew of software and heavy-duty hardware to finish rendering a picture for the new project in the office, the company has a subscription to a site that allows users to log in and use their servers for the company’s projects.  This reduces the need to purchase expensive hardware and software before it the company can launch.  It also frees them up from server maintenance tasks, housing servers, cooling servers, and added electricity expenses.

A cloud computing system is made up of the client side and the computer side, or front end and back end of the system.  The front end is the part where you log in to access the network.  This includes the user’s computer and the application to access the network.  Some companies use specific applications that connect directly to the network as opposed to always using Firefox or Chrome.  The back end is made up of what makes the “cloud”, such as servers and data storage.

One main computer uses special software called middleware to manage all the computers and ensure nothing gets over loaded in the systems.  It is possible to take one server and tell it that it is actually multiple servers.  When this is done this is called server virtualization and is used to make full use of a server’s capacity.

Cloud computing has more advantages than just not having to purchase a lot of hardware and software.  With cloud computing, a user may be able to access their “computer” anywhere.  That means if the user’s computer is down, they need only to move to the nearest empty desk and log into the network.  This is similar to how anyone with a Gmail account can use an internet browser to log into the Google servers from any computer to access their documents from Google Drive or create a spreadsheet on the same.

In fact, it is an excellent system for those that have low computing power or limited data storage capabilities.  This system has saved more than one college student with only a phone and a paper due by Monday or face failure.  Cloud computing has the potential to offer more processing power than a user would be limited to if they had to use only the computers available to them directly due to automatic load balancing.

Cloud computing does have some downsides that are related to anything that not directly owned or operated.  First, when the serve is down, the user has no access.  In fact, the only thing the user can do is waiting for the company running the servers to fix everything.  Also, when the subscription runs out, the user no longer has access to their account, data, or software programs that were on that account.

Who owns the data the user created if the user has no access to it?  These problems are obvious when looking at cloud computing, but there other not so obvious problems.  The first is privacy.  How is the user guaranteed privacy?  While passwords and authentication are great, it doesn’t prevent hackers from getting access to passwords.

Additionally, security is a great concern.  Due to the fact that all information travels over the internet in some form, it is susceptible to snooping and packet sniffing.  One way to limit this is by using a Virtual Private Network or VPN. However, the connection from the user to the Virtual Private Network is still open to snooping, sniffing, and data collection.  Additionally, any information stored on the cloud network may be susceptible to snooping.  The servers and data storage units are not owned by the user, so law enforcement could in theory just ask for permission to search a user’s data rather than require a warrant.

In fact, the PRISM program that is currently in operation by the NSA requires places like Google and other cloud storage type operations to hand over information on users.  While a server company may be able to encrypt data for innocent users, it doesn’t stop anyone from having the power to directly look at the users information without their knowledge or require the encryption key to open up the encrypted data.  For a large company, with potentially sensitive work, this would be a major risk to their business model.

In short, cloud computing has the potential to be the newest and most flexible frontier of computing once it has sorted out all the legal issues surrounding it.  When users may retain their data and own their data after a subscription has expired, more people will feel comfortable using cloud computing.  When cloud servers are treated as securely as the US Postal service is, companies may feel more secure in allowing their more secure documents on cloud servers and data storage.

Until that time, cloud computing may take off for younger unaware generations especially when they have only a phone and a couple hours until their paper needs done.  It has the potential to radically change the way we use computers now and in the future, but it can only meet this potential if it is a safe, private alternative to using in house servers and data storage.

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