What is Cloud computing exactly and why should I be using it?
The idea of sharing files via the internet isn’t new – it pretty much follows the same ideals as the internet had in its early development.
A brief history
Every website we visit is essentially a file, held on a server and viewed by entering the correct address. The technology is a little more sophisticated today, but the philosophy is the same: to share with each other.
Sharing data has become a significant part of our culture and our businesses and now, thanks to better internet connectivity and developments in Wifi, we are able share more and more data with convenience – taking the business world to new heights.
Cloud computing has existed as a concept since the sixties, with the development of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1969.
Due to limitations on bandwidth, cloud computing as a functional system began in 1999, with the arrival of Salesforce.com, which pioneered the concept of delivering applications via a website.
In 2002 Amazon introduced web services to customers, then launched its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) in 2006, allowing small companies to rent computers to run their own apps.
In 2007, a free service to the public to exchange files was introduced by the name of Dropbox. 2 students found themselves tired of emailing files to each other in order to work from more than one computer.
Microsoft later followed with Azure in 2008, a cloud system for businesses with a mix of integrated services.
In 2009, when web 2.0 hit its stride, other services such as Google and Apple began to offer browser-based applications for both the business and domestic market.
Types of Cloud service
Cloud services today can generally be classified into three types:
Software as a service (SaaS)
Platform as a service (PaaS)
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
SaaS is the most familiar form of cloud service. SaaS includes systems such as Salesforce, Google Apps, Box and Dropbox and are usually provided on a subscription model.
PaaS is the development of applications using Web-based tools, which run on system software and hardware provided by another company. One of the simpler examples of PaaS is Facebook. Developers can create specific applications for the Facebook platform using APIs and make it available to any Facebook user.
IaaS is comprised of highly automated and scalable compute resources, complemented by cloud storage and network capability. This can be self-provisioned, metered, and made available on-demand. IaaS Examples include Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. The main uses of IaaS include the development (and deployment) of PaaS, SaaS and web applications.
So, how can cloud technology be utilised?
There are different types of cloud, all designed with different uses and audiences in mind. They are:
On-premise Private Cloud
Public Cloud is made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organisation selling cloud services . Examples of large public cloud services include Amazon EC2, Gmail, Office365 and Dropbox.
Hybrid Cloud integrates both private and public services to perform distinct functions within the same organisation. It is essentially a combination of private cloud with the flexibility of public cloud. A hybrid cloud system typically consists of a public development platform that sends data to a private cloud or data-centre.
Private Cloud is operated solely for an organisation and is not generally used for public consumption. A private cloud can be created and managed by a third party provider.
On-Premise Private Cloud also offers the same functionality of private cloud solutions, but company data stays on premise and therefore under control of the business owner. Organisations that deal with patient information, or personal details of clients favour on-premise solutions because they are protected by the company firewall and have VPN capabilities.
Another example is Community cloud: is shared by several organisations and supports a specific community. It may be managed by the organisations or a third party and may exist on premise or off premise.
Domestic vs. corporate cloud
Depending on your needs, your industry and company size will usually determine whether or not you want to invest in a corporate cloud system. Public cloud systems are often avoided by businesses due to issues with security that are associated with them.
Companies like Dropbox appeal to domestic users because if offers a free service and can be used by multiple devices. Domestic cloud systems are generally used for sharing music, photos or backing up small devices such as smart phones. Is limited in data upload size, with most services offering between 2-4 GB of space.
Domestic (public) cloud is usually free to use, but has less security than a private cloud solution. Larger services often suffer hacking attempts and data leaks, so it is not recommended for business use.
A corporate cloud is typically better suited for more than 5 users or individuals who need to send larger files to clients. Whilst corporate cloud systems are used to send important data to clients and colleagues, many companies use the systems as backups.
Corporate cloud systems usually come from providers who have better security measures in place to protect your data, such as VPN capabilities and encryption tools. They are considered unnecessary for personal use, but are beneficial to businesses.
Companies who wish to provide their cloud services to clients may prefer a hybrid cloud, whereas organisations who deal with valuable information will be better using a private cloud, where data is kept in-house.
Data and privacy
One of the biggest deciding factors for businesses with a cloud system is privacy and protection of their data.
A recent study by the Observe IT (people audit) found that over 64% of data breaches are made externally – so not by a disgruntled ex employee, but by an outsider. Companies including Dropbox and icloud have suffered huge data losses as a result of hacking, with one of the highest profile cases being a large scale celebrity leak in 2014. Over 26 celebrities had nude photos leaked to the public, putting their careers in jeopardy.
Unfortunately with public services such as Dropbox and icloud, providers cannot take responsibility for data loss – this is often the case with larger services due to the number of users and files that service has to maintain. Millions of users have lost data or been exposed to blackmail because of hacking attempts.
Many cloud providers must be willing to share information with third parties when required by law. Companies including Microsoft and Apple have both lost lawsuits to protect user data, with the American government in a position where it can look at user data wherever it is kept. Authorities do not need a warrant to look at user data held by these companies.
Most people have nothing to hide but many users still feel that this is a breach of their rights to privacy. It is increasingly problematic for companies that deal with customer data, sensitive information or patient data. We actually have clients who deal with vulnerable people and as a result are unable to implement a cloud system because of these issues.
Data ownership is also a huge issue for businesses, as many cloud providers are not clear about where data is kept, who it is owned by or whether copies are made once it is uploaded to that cloud.
Questions to ask
We have compiled a list of questions for you to consider before choosing a cloud provider:
1. Where is my data kept?
2. How easily can I transfer my applications and data to another cloud solution?
3. How do I get my data back – and are copies of it kept when I have taken it?
4. Is there a backup and disaster recovery system in place to protect my data?
5. Who owns the hardware that my data is stored on?
6. Is there a minimum contract period?
- Cloud technology is a great way to share, store and receive files.
- It is extremely flexible and can be used for multiple functions and on a variety of devices.
- You can backup data to a cloud system, on or off premises.
- It can save you a lot of office space – less rent can’t be too bad!
- Security: there are a myriad of security issues with public cloud and many people continue to use it because often public services are ‘free’. These services are no good for business as the cost of losing data is significantly higher than paying for a private cloud service.
- Cost: If you are a corporation, you should be investing in a private cloud, but often the best cloud systems come with a price tag.
- Ownership: ownership is a huge issue for business owners – many cloud services do not openly disclose who the data belongs to. Many PaaS services such as Facebook state in their small print that data uploaded belongs to the service and therefore can be used at will by that service.
How do these factors affect your business?
Do no panic! A lot of the negative experiences relating to the cloud are often due to companies using public services, when really they should be investing in a professional cloud solution.
Investing in a private, on-premise cloud solution will help eliminate many of the issues listed and allow you the flexibility and functionality of a public cloud. Many businesses are choosing to use hybrid systems, which in turn have advantages and disadvantages – again, great for flexibility but not as effective as protecting data.
Hopefully we have covered most of the issues regarding the cloud and cleared up any questions you may have about it.
If you are looking for a private cloud solution for your business, why not give us a call on 0330 2020 139 or email email@example.com
– Blog post by Jess Brown, Head of Marketing at Invicta Linux.
I work for Invicta Linux, Business specialists in Data, Security & Communications.
Tel: 0330 2020 139 / 01304 450070