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SpirE-Journal 2011 Q1

Cloud Computing: Revolution or Buzzword?

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Cloud Computing: Revolution or Buzzword?

Global organizations started adopting Cloud Computing as a tool to reduce costs, enhance scalability and improve business process efficiency. Many multinationals, including Starbucks and Citigroup, are already using it to analyze data, provide applications to employees and run special projects. But can it truly revolutionize the global IT and business landscape or is it just another buzzword? And what new market spaces might be created by the Cloud?

Introduction

In the era of globalization, newer markets and customer segments are emerging at a pace that was previously unthinkable. Customers are now demanding a blend of value, quality, efficiency and global consistency, all of which are creating new challenges across the value chain. Companies are responding through greater emphasis on innovation in their product offerings as well as sourcing from lower-cost countries that are moving-up the value chain to support more knowledge-based activities. Simultaneously, supplier relationships have become more flexible, collaborative and technology-driven. 

In the midst of these transitions, global organizations started adopting Cloud Computing as a tool to reduce costs, enhance scalability and improve business process efficiency. Many multinationals, including Starbucks and Citigroup, are already using it to analyze data, provide applications to employees and run special projects. Media giants are reported to be working on Cloud-like services that enable content to be delivered dynamically in multiple formats and on a variety of devices. The Cloud service provider space is also growing by the day – with companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Oracle vying for a share of the market. 

Technology and business journals abound with commentary on Cloud computing. However, Cloud services have also raised some concerns as Chief information officers (CIOs) try to determine if they offer value for money and are worth incurring switching costs. Does the Cloud really have the potential to revolutionize the global IT and business landscape or is it just another buzzword?

Cloud Computing enables the delivery of scalable IT resources from shared pools outside the corporate boundaries.
What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing has been defined by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US Department of Commerce as a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources – such as for example networks, servers, storage, applications and services, that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or Cloud provider interaction. 

In other words, Cloud Computing enables the delivery of scalable IT resources from shared pools outside the corporate boundaries. It allows for remote storage and pooling of data and software, both of which can be accessed through PCs, smart phones, PDAs, computing appliances, gaming consoles and even cars. It is called Cloud computing because the data and applications exist on a “Cloud” of web servers. 

The History of Cloud Computing

 The inception of Cloud computing dates back to the 1960′s when prominent computer scientist John McCarthy commented that computing power may someday be organized as a public utility. 

The actual term “Cloud” comes from telephony. Until the 1990s, telecommunications carriers primarily offered dedicated point-to-point data circuits, but in that decade began offering Virtual Private Network (VPN) services with comparable quality but at a much lower cost. 

After the infamous “dot-com bubble” of 2001, Amazon.com played a key role in the development of Cloud computing by modernizing its data centers, which like most computer networks, were using as little as 10% of their capacity so as to leave room for occasional spikes. Having found that the new Cloud architecture resulted in significant internal efficiencies, Amazon initiated a new product development effort to provide Cloud computing to external customers, and launched the Amazon Web Service (AWS) on a utility computing basis in 2006. As Jeff Bezos, founder, president and CEO of Amazon.com said, ‘You don’t generate your own electricity. Why generate your own computing?’ 

In 2007, Google, IBM and a number of universities embarked on a large-scale Cloud computing research project. In early 2008, Eucalyptus became the first open-source, AWS API (Application Programming Interface) compatible platform for deploying private Clouds. OpenNebula, enhanced by the RESERVOIR European Commission-funded project in early 2008, became the first open-source software for deploying private and hybrid Clouds for the federation of Clouds. 

In the same year, efforts focused on providing Quality of Service guarantees to Cloud-based infrastructures, in the framework of the IRMOS (Interactive Realtime Multimedia Applications on Service Oriented Infrastructures) European Commission-funded project. 

By mid-2008, it became clear that Cloud computing would shape the relationship among consumers of IT services, those who use IT services and those who sell them.

In emerging economies, security will be more of a concern for SMEs and large firms, especially State-Owned Enterprises.
Cloud Computing Models and Types

Cloud Providers offer services that can be grouped into three categories. 

1. Software as a Service (SaaS): This model is somewhat similar to service on demand. A complete application is offered to the customer. Multiple end-users are serviced by a single instance of the application that runs on the Cloud. On the customers’ side, there is no need for upfront investment in servers or software licenses, while for the provider, the costs are lowered, since only a single application needs to be hosted and maintained. SaaS is currently offered by companies such as Google, Salesforce, Microsoft and Zoho. 

2. Platform as a Service (PaaS): Here, a layer of software, or development environment, is encapsulated and offered as a service, upon which other higher levels of service can be built. The customer has the freedom to build his/her own applications, which run on the provider’s infrastructure. Google’s App Engine and Force.com are some popular PaaS examples. 

3. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): IaaS provides basic storage and computing capabilities such as standardized services over the network. Servers, storage systems, networking equipment and data centre space are pooled and made available to handle workloads. The customer would typically deploy his/her own software on the infrastructure. Some common examples include Amazon, GoGrid and 3 Tera. 

Based on the way it is deployed, Cloud Services can be utilized in four different ways: 

1. Private Cloud

Cloud infrastructure is owned or leased by a single organization and is operated solely for that organization.
The opportunity to share the infrastructure costs, maintenance and support amongst several customers is lost. However such sharing can be done across countries and departments within a single company.

2. Community Cloud

A slight modification in the private Cloud will lead to community Cloud infrastructure that is shared by several organizations and supports a specific community that has shared concerns.

3. Public Cloud

Resources are shared and sold over the internet among all clients who share the same mega-infrastructure.
Google, Salesforce and Amazon are some of the providers of public Cloud services.

4. Hybrid Cloud

This is a composition of two or more Clouds (internal, community, or public), typically to adjust the level of service and security between different applications.
It is considered an efficient model for organizations as it combines the flexibility of different Clouds.
Who runs the Cloud?

There are many players but Microsoft, Amazon, Google and IBM remain the market leaders. 

Amazon’s EC2 is the core of Amazon’s Cloud computing platform and stands for Elastic Compute Cloud. EC2 allows users to rent virtual computers on which to run their own computer applications. 

Popular Cloud computing applications that are being used by small businesses include the following.

1. Google Apps is a service from Google providing independently customizable versions of several Google products under a customized domain name. It features several web applications with similar functionality to traditional MS Office suites including: Gmail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Sites.

2. Salesforce.com, headquartered in San Francisco, USA, is an enterprise Cloud computing company, which is best known for its Customer Relationship Management (CRM) products. The company distributes business software on a subscription basis, with the applications being hosted offsite.

3. Infusion CRM provides web-based, centralized customer management.

4. Netsuite Inc. is a vendor of on-demand, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), integrated business management software for mid-market enterprises and divisions of large companies.

5. QuickBooks Online is a line of business accounting software developed and marketed by Intuit.

Barriers to Cloud Computing

 The global Cloud computing market is expected to grow from US$ 40.7 billion in 2011 to US$ 241 billion in 2020, indicating a CAGR of 21.9% . Of this, Software as a Service (SaaS) is projected to have a 55% share. While the growth is forecast to continue unabated, there are certain challenges, as outlined below. 

Data Security – With Cloud computing, the client’s data is accessible to a third party that is providing the Cloud support. This may raise concerns over the security of critical organizational data. In emerging market environments, security is likely to be more of a concern among SMEs and even among large organizations such as State-Owned Enterprises, some of whom would have “national security” concerns. This factor along may drive many large Asian enterprises and SOEs to opt for private Clouds that are domestically hosted.

Latency issues – As the applications and infrastructure are remotely located, there is a chance that the speed and performance of applications will degrade over time.

New Market Spaces

The big question posed by Cloud Computing is, quite simply – how big of an impact will it make on the IT market and on other markets in general? 

The impact is likely to be felt more keenly in the ICT market. The Cloud will shift the balance of power away from makers of hardware and software for personal computing and proprietary server and storage networks towards those producing for Cloud vendors and consortia. The packaged software and enterprise software industry will have to adapt to more computing being performed by Clouds rather than where the user resides. IT manufacturers will have to produce fewer personal computers and SME-type servers and more hardware for large Cloud server farms. Large data centers will continue to proliferate – but will get even larger. 

The Cloud aggregates computing power for more efficiency. While this may reduce volume on hardware and software (not to mention services), that may be made up for by the need for the higher performance centralized systems where the Cloud resides. The unleashing of new applications that can be run on the Cloud would also help; both at the individual level (think personal sites on the Cloud to store music, videos, photos and more); and at the company level (think application service provider software versus packaged software). 

Apple is currently building its own Cloud infrastructure to support its iTunes and MobileMe platforms. The efficiencies generated may, according to some reports, lead to price cuts for future versions of the iPhone – since computing power could be leveraged off the Cloud rather than be built into the iPhone device. The MobileMe (a storage locker for personal multimedia files) may even be provided free. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have launched or are launching similar initiatives with even more computing firepower behind them. 

However when one scratches the surface of these new developments, they appear to be things that could have been done in the pre-Cloud world via proprietary data centers – but are now being done more cheaply using the Cloud. A unique impact on customer experiences from the Cloud is elusive.

The Cloud is essentially a BPO solution to cut computing costs.
Conclusion

Cloud computing has already made major inroads into the workings of the IT world. And that in turn has had major effects on companies and consumers, with even more to come. Google is perhaps the most famous Cloud-based company to demonstrate the potential of a Cloud platform. All of Google’s signature products, including Gmail, Google Documents and Google Earth, are delivered from the Cloud. 

However the Cloud revolution is not without its downsides. One of these is risk management. With so much computing power and data residing in vast data centers, would these not be vulnerable to natural disasters, acts of terrorism or organized crime? Assessing and managing risk in Cloud computing systems can be a challenge. But the plain truth is that risk exists when data resides on the existing proprietary data centers of companies. And these risks can be managed by security software, back-up facilities in different parts of the world and strong disaster recovery capabilities. 

Another challenge is environmental. Cloud Computing is growing at a time when climate change has become a major global concern. For the Cloud’s content to be delivered in real time, it will need to be stored in virtual mountains of video, pictures and data somewhere. And that ‘somewhere’ is data centres – massive storage facilities that consume incredible amounts of energy, much of it expended (ironically) to cool servers. However even here there is a valid response. By pooling computing needs, the Cloud would reduce a great deal of redundant hardware production and electricity consumption to power devices that are under-utilized. The net effect on the environment may not be all that bad and might even be positive. 

Rather than expanding market space to create radically new products and customer experiences, it seems that the main impact of the Cloud will be to make more efficient the present way computing power is used. In other words, the Cloud is essentially a BPO solution to cut computing costs. The main effect of the Cloud revolution will be to cut the unit cost of computing and to make computing power much more easily accessible to companies of all sizes. Companies will then be able to leverage greater profits – hopefully part of these will go to imagining and realizing more Blue Oceans. 

In terms of the IT competitive landscape, the Cloud will shift the advantage to large IT firms (or perhaps consortia of large IT firms) that can deploy massive Clouds, taking power away from smaller developers, IT solution providers and hardware manufacturers. This will benefit bigger vendors with more financial and R&D muscle power, as well as the ability to set standards, win enterprise customers and attract applications from the developer community. 

So the Cloud’s impact on everyday life may be minimally felt by the average consumer. The main thing most of us will realize is that computing power would have become cheaper, easily accessible and ubiquitous, much like the supply of water and electricity. The Cloud would then have transformed computing from an exciting competitive space to a boring utility – as, some might argue, it should always have been.


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