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Does Every Cloud Have A Silver Lining?

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Before cloud computing had become mainstream, I had to research and produce a report on it. Thought I would share it for those less familiar with cloud computing. Enjoy.

Does every cloud have a silver lining?

Abstract
In an industry where continuous change is a trend, and new developments are introduced on a regular basis, something is causing a stir not seen since the introduction of the World Wide Web...Cloud Computing. This paper will investigate what Cloud Computing is, and look at some of the services and entities found within the Cloud. This paper will also provide a critique by exploring some of the current downfalls found within the Cloud.

1. What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud Computing is a fairly new concept, built upon years of research in “virtualization, distributed computing, utility computing, and more recently networking, web and software services” (Vouk, 2009). It is a commercial extension of computing resources, such as storage and computation cycles, offered generally through a pay as you go service over the internet. In a similar way to how electricity, water, natural gas, or telephone networks are offered to us, there is an increased anticipation that computing will one day be recognised as the fifth utility. This computing utility will offer end users a basic level of computing service which is considered essential in meeting their daily requirements (Buyya, 2009).
Cloud Computing enables a computer system to acquire or release computing resources on demand. It also allows the user to deploy software into an environment which has the necessary technological stacks. This would allow users to perform such tasks as program in java without the use of their own java virtual machine, or run Macintosh software whilst using their Windows platform.
The Cloud Computing Framework incorporates five key components.

1.1 Virtualisation
Virtualisation is a technique for “hiding the physical characteristics of computing resources to simplify the way in which other systems, applications, or end users interact with those resources” (Bolton, 2007).
Virtualisation was first seen in the 1960’s, specifically in IBM Mainframe computers (Vouk, 2008). Today, virtualisation has revitalised the evolutionary growth of computing infrastructure, and is being applied to all areas of computing, including Cloud Computing (Vouk, 2008).

1.2 Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS clouds allow users to provision resources such as compute power, storage, servers and related tools, which can be used on demand to create their own virtual environment. IaaS has the benefit of being cheap, whereby users only have to pay for what they use, with no long term commitments or contracts.
Many people believe that the number one benefit of IaaS is rapid provisioning. This means that users can rapidly change their infrastructure if it suffers a defect, without having to wait months for a replacement (Langley, K. 2008).

1.3 Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS is a paradigm for “delivering operating systems and associated services over the Internet without downloads or installation” (Langley, K. 2008). PaaS offers users workflow facilities to make the deployment and scalability of their application simple, whilst at the same time keeping outgoings to a minimum.
PaaS has the benefit of increasing the number of people who can develop, deploy and maintain web applications. This therefore reduces any cost which previously went out for employing a professional service.

1.4 Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS is described as being “software applications deployed as a hosted service and accessed over the Internet via a standard web browser” (Parallels SaaS Team, 2009).
SaaS offers a way for service providers, individual system vendors and customers to interact and offer their services virtually, on a pay as you go basis. This not only increases additional drive for demand, but it reduces the need to purchase individual applications (Parallels SaaS Team, 2009).

1.5 Cloud Optimisation
Cloud Optimisation services allow the other four components of the Cloud Infrastructure to run with a high level performance, the ability to scale, and with confidence that all services will be offered in a reliable manner.

2. Users within the Cloud
The most important entity within Cloud Computing is the users. The value of any solution is determined by the user’s analysis of the end-user requirements (Vouk, 2008).
There are four general types of user categories; Cyber Infrastructure Developers, Authors, Technology and Domain Personnel, and End Users.

2.1 Cyber Infrastructure Developers
Cyber Infrastructure Developers are responsible for the development and maintenance of the Cloud framework. Experts within their specified field, they develop and integrate “system hardware, storage, networks, interfaces, administration and management software, communications and scheduling algorithms, and so on” (Vouk, 2008).

2.2 Authors
Authors are developers of individual services, which have the potential to be used directly, or integrated within a more complex system. Authors are not generally Cloud Framework experts, so authoring tools to be used within the cloud allow for easy service development (Vouk, 2009).

2.3 Technology and Domain Personnel
Technology and Domain Personnel are responsible for the creation of devised solutions required by the end user. They can achieve this through sampling and combining existing services, customising and updating existing services, or developing new composites (Vouk, 2008).

2.4 End Users
The End-Users are the most important users, as a majority of services within the Cloud are designed specifically for them (Vouk, 2009). The End-User requires a reliable service, with a timely delivery of resources. Interfaces should be easy to use, and support should be available without delay.


3. Evaluation
The first two pages of this journal gave an insight into Cloud Computing, and spoke about some of the major entities found within the Cloud. The intention behind this section is to take a critical look at the Cloud, by exploring some of its current downfalls.

3.1 Performance
Cloud Infrastructures are known to have considerable performance issues. Like any shared infrastructure, varying individual workloads can impact available CPU resources, resulting in volatile performance behaviour of the collective applications (Oracle, 2009).
Performance can also be a major issue when using a public cloud infrastructure. As the user is not in the same location as the main data center, communication is made via a wide area network. If multiple simultaneous users are trying to access the public cloud at the same time, bandwidth and latency issues come into play (Oracle, 2009).

3.2 Data Lock-In
With the API’s for Cloud Computing being protected, it has been difficult to acclimatise it to a more standardised environment. This leads to an issue known as Data Lock-In, whereby it is a complex process to extract data from your host vendor, if you decide to leave the Cloud or switch providers (Armbrust, 2009).
Data Lock-In is a major concern for organisations looking to enter the Cloud. If a business places their files on the server of their vendor, they have no guarantee of getting them out. This could sequentially lead to major security flaws, and the leaking of confidential information.

3.3 Data Confidentiality
Keeping data confidential within the cloud has been a major concern since it was introduced (Armbrust, 2009). As information will be stored on a public network, it becomes a target for malicious attacks. There would be a need for all information to be encrypted before it enters the Cloud, but even so, there are always ways to bypass an encryption algorithm.
Another confidential issue is related to the laws of a country, and the information allowed to be held by a third party company. An instance of this is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which restricts “financial institutions from disclosing a consumer's personal financial information to a non-affiliated third party” (Gellman, 2009). This act immediately rules out any financial institution from trading within the cloud. Similar acts also apply upon various markets, which begs the question as to how viable it really is for organisations to enter the Cloud?

3.4 Availability of a Service
As Cloud Computing is essentially a utility, an organisation has no control as to the availability of a service. If the Cloud suffers a major malfunction, would an organisation have to cease trading until the matter was resolved, or could they still access their information within the Cloud? These are questions currently being asked, but as of yet, no definite answer has been provided (Armbrust, 2009). This issue is halting any progress into the Cloud by large organisations, until a suitable business-continuity strategy has been developed.
Availability of a Service is currently a big concern to providers. They have come under attack from extortionists requesting large sums of money, the alternative being Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, which would make any service offered by the SaaS providers unavailable.

3.5 Data Transfer Bottlenecks
A majority of applications are very data intensive, which can cause issues when placing and transporting them across the Cloud. Furthermore, at a reported cost of “$100 to $150 per terabyte transferred” (Armbrust, 2009), the transferring of data has the potential to create a substantial cost to an organisation. This is having an impact on the decisions being made by organisations entering the Cloud. If they constantly have to transfer an intensive amount of data over the server, would the running cost of this service outweigh the cost of keeping things local?

4. Conclusion
Cloud Computing is fast becoming regarded as the way of the future in terms of technology. The hopes are that it will one day be accepted as the fifth utility, and used naturally in accordance with our everyday lives. But does every cloud have a silver lining? In my opinion, Cloud Computing currently has too many downfalls to be considered a viable solution. Security is currently a major issue, which has impacted the acceptance of Cloud Computing by major corporations. Discussions are currently happening about a new form of encryption, which will work alongside Cloud Computing in keeping data secure. But surely it is just a matter of time until hackers produce a way around this. My opinions are based on Cloud Computing as it stands today, so this is not to say that the future holds great things for this type of technological advancement. I think that Cloud Computing will one day be accepted and used by all of us, but I don’t think that this will be any time soon.

References
Armbrust, M., et al., 2009. Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing. University of California at Berkeley. Available at http://www.eecs.berk...CS-2009-28.pdf. Accessed on 16th November 2009.

Bolton, D. 2007. Definition of Virtualisation. About.com. Available at http://cplus.about.c...ualization.htm. Accessed 2nd December 2009.

Buyya, R., et al., 2009. Cloud Computing and Emerging IT Platforms: Vision, Hype, and Reality for Delivering Computing as the 5th Utility. Vienna University of Technology. Available at http://www.gridbus.o...tforms2008.pdf. Accessed 29th November 2009.

Langley, K. 2008. Cloud Computing: Get Your Head in the Clouds. Production Scale. Available at http://www.productio...he-clouds.html. Accessed 30th November 2009.

Gellman, R. 2009. Privacy in the Clouds: Risks to Privacy and Confidentiality from Cloud Computing. World Privacy Forum. Available at http://www.worldpriv...acy_Report.pdf. Accessed 3rd December 2009.

Parallels SaaS Team. 2009. SaaS — Software as a Service. Parallels Optimized Computing. Available at http://www.parallels...products/saas/. Accessed 30th November 2009.

Vouk, M. A., 2009. Cloud Computing – Issues, Research and Implementations. North Carolina State University. Available at http://cit.zesoi.fer...php?paper=1391. Accessed on 29th November 2009.

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