An introduction to cloud computing
Cloud computing is almost daily in the technology news. This brief introduction highlights the main benefits of cloud computing and the underlying business case as well as the most critical open issues.
What cloud computing is
The idea of cloud computing is not new. Its concept dates back to the 1960s, when John McCarthy said that “computation may some day be organised as a public utility”. Subsequently, many of the modern day characteristics of cloud computing and a comparison to the electricity were explored in 1966 by Douglas Parkhill in his book “The Challenge of the Computer Utility”.
Cloud computing is not confined to business use. Many very successful consumer services use cloud computing, including Hotmail, Flickr and Facebook. Therefore, cloud computing should not be new to many Internet users, as they have already used it, but probably without knowing or noticing it.
Main characteristics and benefits
The unification and homogenisation offers other advantages, including faster deployment of upgrades and the guarantee that those updates are implemented uniformly. Users of cloud services having cyclic high demand with intermittent idle or low demand periods can benefit of the elasticity and do not have to invest any longer into infrastructure and/or services that are not utilised for considerable periods. In addition, if your business is growing fast, your increased demand for computing services can be met seamlessly. Finally, cloud services are designed to be accessed remotely, so if you have a mobile workforce, your staff will have access to vital data and services on the go.
There is one additional factor that is worth mentioning, namely that the current restrictive economic climate also favours cloud computing and contributes to its increased uptake.
Issues with cloud computing
Clearly, a certain level of trust is needed for the decision to switch to cloud computing. However, users who have embraced cloud computing are reportedly happy and satisfied, and overall not concerned. The ease, speed and guaranteed uniformity of updates of systems speak in favour of cloud computing. However, the concentration of resources and potentially interesting information makes cloud hosted applications and data an attractive target for malicious attacks.
Finally, an aspect needs to be mentioned that is particular to Europe, but exactly because of this needs to be considered. That is the non uniform legal environment. This is not to say that the somewhat aged European legal framework cannot used with a bit of effort, especially if we consider past ruling in similar issues as precedents to how to interpret certain roles and responsibilities.
However, only a minimum is defined on the European level as a penalty for misbehaving, and it is left in the hands of national legislation to apply more restrictive measures. This results in a segmented market, where national boundaries act as boundaries for providers as they are reluctant to face the risks associated to the differences in national legislations - they are comfortable in their home market, but reluctant to extend their service offerings across national borders.
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