Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a technology that is taking the world by, well, storm. Even if you don’t know what cloud computing is, you most likely use it in your everyday life. If you use Facebook, webmail, or online banking, you’re probably taking advantage of cloud computing.

So what is cloud computing? Cloud computing is the utilization of a network of computers to accomplish a certain task or run software. This is in contrast to say, ten years ago, if you wanted to install an application. You had to download it, then install it. And even then, it was only available on that machine. If you bought a new laptop, you’d need to install it on there.

Instead, cloud computing uses the collective power of dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of computers to bring YOU fully functional software without needing a powerful computer yourself to run it. It’s like instead of doing a math problem on your own, you write it on a chalkboard, then have dozens of math majors do the problem for you and give you the answer faster and more accurate than you could ever do on your own. All you need is a web browser or some other lightweight software on your computer.

As it can seem, this is huge. It enables access to your data all the time — I’m sure you use Google Docs, and one of the best parts of it is that you can take notes at school then go home and not have to open your laptop to get access to those notes. You are utilizing the computing power of thousands of servers to type up that document, then also utilizing the hard drives of thousands of servers to keep that file. And an advantage is that if one of those thousands of servers breaks, you don’t lose your file — it’s distributed among all of those servers for redundancy. Whereas if your computer with Microsoft Word on it breaks, well… let’s hope you kept a backup of all your documents.

In addition, it’s incredibly cheap. You no longer have to buy a computer with 10339.102 jiggawatts of power, or with 4069GB of RAM. You just need a computer that barely works. It’s one reason why tablets, netbooks, and ultrabooks are so popular. Their lower specs can be made up by still giving you full access to Gmail, Google Docs, and Facebook.

Imagine how happy companies are about this. Their infrastructure can literally be built on the cloud. And newer startups don’t have to invest thousands of dollars on computers that a cheap one can do. In fact one person in another class I took started a business that was entirely cloud based. He used Gmail for his company email, an online version of Quickbooks for accounting, Dropbox for file sharing, an online CRM to manage customer relationships… and the list goes on. He didn’t even need an actual office!

Another advantage with cloud computing is that you only pay for the space that you use. Let’s say you started your own business, and estimated that you would have 10 employees, then bought 10 licenses of Windows 7 and 10 licenses of Microsoft Office 2010. But… well, a couple months down the road, times are tough, and you have to permanently let go several employees — your workload might be a bit more, but it’s manageable. And now you have leftover licenses that you paid for, but can’t get a refund on. If you had instead just used cloud computing, you would stop paying for those employees that no longer work there.

Cloud computing makes businesses more efficient. In addition, you can downsize your IT department! If all of your employees are using Gmail, then the tech support is all on Google’s side for email — they’re the ones providing it. I believe we talked about this as one of the characteristics of Web 2.0 — the utilization of software as a service, rather than a product in itself.

Now, all of that sounds great, but it sounds too good to be true! There are downsides to cloud computing. For one: privacy issues. Since you have access to your data anywhere you go, it has to be stored somewhere that’s not your own computer — it’s stored on a server, far far away. Do you trust Random Company, Inc. with some information that could possibly be personally identifiable, or even worse, financially sensitive? I guess it depends on your aversion to risk.

For example, the file sharing site Megaupload was taken down, without warning, by the FBI earlier this year. Many users used Megaupload as a file storage site — if space on your hard drive was limited, you uploaded it to Megaupload so you could still have access to it, but not need it on your hard drive. Of course, some other people used it illegitimately and for illegal file sharing. But either way, if you had files on there, you lost it for good. Because you’re not the only one putting files on there, you can’t exactly control if the government is going to decide whether it’s legal or not.

In addition, because you’re not directly in control of your own files, if a website you are storing data with has poor security, they have the potential to be hacked and you could lose your financial information (if you were storing it there) to hackers. Now rather, if it was in your possession and your possession only, you could control how safe you are keeping it.

So what are your thoughts on cloud computing? It’s definitely transformed the corporate environment — they have the resources to utilize cloud computing to its full potential, and also have the money to buy their own equipment to ensure that they can store their own confidential information. But do you trust Random Company, Inc. with your own information? Maybe you keep your confidential information off those services — which is great, but even if you put a homework assignment on the cloud, you’re not really in control of it.

As much as I want to trust my bank with my information, the fact that online banking exists in the first place means that there is a risk (however little) that someone could steal my identify. And with keyloggers and other malware infecting websites and computers… who’s to say they don’t have it already, and just waiting to strike?

With that being said, I do love cloud computing. It’s an odd thing to think about but… even though the future wasn’t what people in the 1900s thought it would be, with flying cars and jetpacks, we basically are in the future. We have the entire Internet at our fingertips, anywhere we go, and we have software that can be accessible from anywhere rather than just the computer you installed it on. We have computers as small as our palm that are more powerful than a football field worth of computers back in the 1960s. Computers have become so powerful that it would be a shame not to use them to their fullest potential.

I think that the disadvantages with cloud computing are outweighed by the positives; I’m not denying that there is a possibility of identify theft and a loss of control, but I think that given a couple years or even already if they haven’t started now, we will start to see more and more regulations on companies that host cloud computing services to ensure that their customer’s data is safe. Hopefully it will be enough. I don’t think I’ve heard of my own bank or any other bank having issues with hackers getting in to their online system. I think it’s worth the risks. What about you?

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9 responses to “Cloud Computing

  1. Extremely interesting article…I don’t even know where to begin! I never actually knew that there was a term for all of this. But when I think about it, the name itself- cloud computing- makes sense because it’s like everyone’s information and data are all stored in one giant cloud.

    I like how you present both pros and cons in the article. Certainly as with anything else, there is always going to be advantages and disadvantages. However, I tend to agree with you that cloud computing is worth the risks. While there are certainly dangers to having all of your personal information stored in the internet, which can be accessible from anywhere by anyone, I believe that there have been a lot of significant strides to ensure security and safety. With the majority of people doing their banking online, both the government and the banks are constantly working to improve people’s privacy. New safety measures are constantly being developed to thwart away any intruders.

    Cloud computing allows for easy access and use at all times. Like you said, it cuts down on all the software that people have to download to their individual computer. It has helped many businesses to flourish, especially with their finances. Overall, I agree that cloud computing is extremely useful and, while we do not have flying cars or jet packs quite yet, it is a sign that the future is rapidly developing in ways that no one could have ever imagined.
    – Sammy DiCarlo

  2. One of the things you mentioned was Google Docs. One amazing aspects of Google’s product suite is the colloborative potential. I have, and continue to utilize Google Docs and Google Groups for a number of projects.

    Google Docs allows dozens (and potentially hundreds) of people to share and collaboratively edit text, spreadsheet and presentations from virtually anywhere.

    Google Groups essentially functions as a discussion group which I use to collaborate effortlessly with people in various cities all over the state of Arizona. Rather than manually forward a messages to all members of your circle, Google Groups allows you to send 1 email to the Group email, which is then disseminated to all members of the group.

  3. Quite an interesting article, I’m glad you have brought up this concept, and perhaps more glad that you pulled from both the pros and the cons of cloud computing. It’s interesting now to think of this idea in contrast to what if this was an idea, say five to ten years ago when computer technology and internet and email really started booming. These days, we are so engulfed in this world where technology is considered almost a necessity. I mean, we are bombarded with information all around us, so it’s no wonder that this idea of cross-platform interaction is so successful. People are making it their life’s work to facilitate communication between interfaces. And sure, cloud computing does just that, but you bring up a good point — is it worth the risks?

    Cloud computing is all but everywhere now. And I’m just not so sure I’m ready to jump on the bandwagon, and I think it boils down to a trust issue. I have some teachers this semester who rely on Dropbox, so all of my homework is submitted via PDF to a Dropbox folder on my system. Then, he grades it on his system, and saves a new copy in the same folder and I can see the graded copy on my system. It’s easy and I love it, but that’s not to say that I don’t keep a copy on my hard drive in the event that something goes wrong. You can’t just throw things over the wall to the cloud, hope they will work, and walk away from all responsibility. Maybe I should relate this all back to the continuum of technology natives and immigrants and tell you that I’m just not ready to change. Give me a couple months, though, and I might be preaching to “immigrants” that cloud computing is the way to go.

  4. This was fun to read. Cloud computing has definitely changed the way we work and do things in our everyday lives. It makes things more convenient and easier to manage, especially with all the information we’ve gathered throughout the ages.

    btw, we do have flying cars, i.e. Personal Air (and Land) Vehicles:
    One like a helicopter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgHSaNtAMjs
    Another like a plane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xo0MEQSGW8w
    Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roadable_aircraft

    and jet packs too, but they require a lot of water, thus needs to be attached to a boat with a large pump in order to operate:

    Both of these technologies have a lot of safety issues concerning air traffic laws, thus they’re not really up for public consumption. Cloud computing’s a lot safer considering you don’t die if something goes wrong. Still, I can’t help be afraid of hackers cracking into online databases where all our information is stored, especially in public domains.

  5. Along with Sam, I was also unaware this Web 2.0 technology had a name, prior to reading Jeff’s post. However, as soon as I saw “Cloud Computing”, I thought of iCloud (once again Apple making new technology accessible to the masses), and the pieces came together.

    In my opinion, the largest advantages are the opportunities for collaboration and the ease of having a main source of reference—but that is probably because those are the two assets most applicable to my own life. For group projects, there is no longer a need to elect one person to compile the presentation; instead, each person can add their own piece, while constantly comparing to what is being added by his/her peers, sometimes simultaneously. Not only in the case of projects, but also with yourself, as Jeff mentions in his post. Wherever I go with access to a computer (class, work, research, etc.), bringing my own laptop is only an added luxury because any documents I encounter or create, I can save to Google Docs or Dropbox while I’m there and view again later at my leisure. Most recently while teaching a one-credit freshman seminar, I find myself gathering necessary materials before class, opting to upload a certain document or two to Google Docs, which I can open on the classroom computer, instead of toting my laptop. To think how I often I have used cloud computing in just the past week!

    That example about the company based solely in cloud computing really puts the advances of the technology into perspective. While the disadvantages scare me (hosting sites having access to and being responsible for housing your files), many organizations face similar risks with hard-copy files: they can be lost in one fell swoop—a fire, flood, or simply being misplaced or stolen. Many of them have reverted to online back-ups for this exact reason. This makes me think multiple sources will always be necessary to feel completely secure.

    Thanks for the great post, Jeff!

  6. I guess I’ll break the mold here and say that I’m not quite comfortable with cloud computing yet. I use some cloud services (like email) because I have no other choice. And yes, it’s convenient, and it probably is the future of computing, but I believe it has too many problems at this point..

    First, I find most of the corporations hosting cloud services (Google, Apple, Amazon, and so on) to be untrustworthy. Ever since Google turned spying on people into a highly successful business model, and ever since its competitors started following suit to keep up, consumer privacy has become something of a joke. To someone who goes to extreme lengths to keep companies like Google from knowing anything about me, paying them for the opportunity to voluntarily upload the contents of my hard drive to their servers sounds like a terrible idea. I strongly prefer computer applications like Microsoft Office to cloud services like Google Docs precisely because everything is user-side and safely stored out of Google’s sight. And with multiple devices, it really isn’t that much of a hassle to use cables or flash drives rather than cloud services for sharing data. Phones and tablets have hard drives for a good reason. If you’re interested in privacy, it’s better to keep as much information as possible off of external servers. They can change their privacy policies on a whim.

    Also, consolidating multiple devices in a cloud is a golden opportunity for aspiring hackers who, if they manage to breach your account, can hijack all your devices at once rather than having to breach each one individually.

    Finally, probably because cloud services are so new, reliability is still a problem. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have all had their servers crash recently. Amazon’s server problems were the most severe, and resulted in some of their users’ files being permanently erased. Megaupload’s case is also disconcerting because it serves as a reminder that we might never know that our files are in the middle of a secret war that we have nothing to do with until they disappear.

    I suppose I’m not dead against cloud computing, but I’m skeptical about it. It will be interesting to see where it goes in the next few years.

  7. Cloud computing is a great example of Web 2.0! Like we went over in class, it offers services, not packaged software, and is cost-effective. It offers and easy platform that can be on your computer and I believe even be accessed when you are not online. It is also very easy to understand and can be useful when you are working with a group on a project for example. As far as the security aspect, I think that if banks can transfer millions of dollars a day and stay secure, then some documents online should have the capability of being pretty secure as well. Great topic!!

  8. Pingback: Information & Identity? | SOC334 Technology and Society

  9. Thinking of Cloud Computing I would only think that it’s everything we use and identical to our course. How we can use some application to our advantage in anyway and especially anyplace we want. I like the example of how that student used Cloud Computing to make an account for his business. It reminds me of how an organization I am involved how we use mainly Google to share documents, input and adding to the calendar on Google so everyone knows what date is taken that way no other org. can clash with another.
    On the other hand I think that security is a must. I would get freaked out when I would have to change my password and whether its strong enough or weak. Then sometimes I forget. But hopefully nothing crashes and panic comes into our simple Cloud Computing.

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