Capacity – Arguments For and Against Cloud Computing
Cloud computing is location-independent computing, powered by the internet, drawing resources, software, and data from shared servers, on a need basis. Users access web tools and applications through the web browser, instead of installing such tools and applications on the hard disk, paying the application provider a subscription, or pay for usage.
Cloud computing thereby allows additional capacity beyond the capabilities of the user’s existing IT infrastructure, without investment in new infrastructure, acquiring expertise in the new software and hardware, or licensing new software. New users require very little physical infrastructure to set up IT infrastructure based on cloud computing, which means that start up costs become minimal. The user also enjoys the additional cost and resource advantage of not having to maintain or upgrade software.
Image Credit: flickr.com/Don Hinchcliffe
Cloud computing restructures an IT infrastructure and resources on a utility model, similar to the other utilities such as electricity. Service providers share their perishable and intangible computing power with many subscribers, improving utilization rates and reducing costs. A traditional stand-alone system rarely uses more than 20 percent of the available capacity.
The benefits provided by such a utility model extend to:
- Flexibility for users to decide which resource to use, and for limited periods.
- Immediate access for users, without having to install and activate the application.
- Doing away with peak load limits in system design.
- Centralization of all infrastructure in a single real estate, providing for lower real estate, electricity, security, and other costs.
- More efficient electronic recycling and managing of e-waste.
- Efficient and optimal use of resources promoting “green computing”.
- Enhanced data protection, recovery, and backup services that many users cannot afford individually.
- Protection from damages owing to fire, theft and other hazards at the users premises.
A review of cloud computing advantages and disadvantages reveals that the advantages notwithstanding, cloud computing faces many challenges and drawbacks, and the biggest challenge pertains to cloud computing security issues.
The nature of cloud computing service, entails external management of security services, and this means entrusting valuable data with unknown and un-trusted third-parties. Related to security are privacy issues. Cloud service providers can control and monitor communication and data at will, either lawfully or unlawfully
The Cloud Security Alliance, a non-profit organization, promotes the use of best practices for providing security assurance within cloud computing, but the underlying issues remain far from resolved.
Another major issue with cloud computing is over-dependence on an external cloud service provider, for a crucial part of business process such as IT infrastructure. The risk of cloud service providers shutting down, changing their business model, or remaining inaccessible in crunch situations, or even closing down for financial or legal reasons, always remains an issue. Cloud service providers have suffered many outrages, and on such occasions, users can do nothing.
Cloud computing runs on open source software, but most cloud providers expose unique and interoperable application programming. This makes migration from one cloud service provider to another, difficult.
Arguments for and against cloud computing usually center on costs. While cloud computing does away with the need for capital expenditure, and reduces cost owing to efficient utilization of resources, whether it actually cut costs is debatable, and depends on both the organization providing the service and the user’s specific need. Cloud server providers charge operational costs such as for data transfers, storage, PUT and GET requests, IP addresses, and load balancing. Such costs recur on a monthly basis, and can become overwhelming over time, negating or even overturning the benefits of reduced capital investment. Cloud models make business sense only when the user requires diverse services for short periods, or when usage is minimal.
In conclusion, cloud computing is a useful product but not the answer for everything.