Contrary to popular opinion, “the Cloud” is essentially a marketing term that has been applied to existing technology. It was conceptualised a long time ago, but with recent hardware developments we have seen more of its implementation.
The Cloud as a central storage point. At its core it is no different from you saving a file on your office server and someone else accessing it. As Internet services have improved, storage of data has just become better and more mobile.
We can trace the Cloud’s conception to the late 1960’s when a man by the name of J.C.R. Licklider envisioned a central computational point where everyone would access programs and data. In reality, the Cloud is much more than just a central storage point. As technology has evolved, so has the Cloud. Traditionally we were used to having a PC on our desk (a box containing all the intricate PC hardware) along with a keyboard, mouse, monitor etc. This was necessary because we needed as much storage and power as we could muster.
However, as technology has improved, our PCs have become smaller. We’ve moved to laptops and thin clients. More recently we have developed microcomputers and virtualisation. We still have a monitor, mouse and keyboard but now we’re left with a tiny PC that relies almost completely on the server for storage as well as computational power.
It’s important to note that Cloud servers are not just data repositories; they provided computational power as well as operating systems and programs. Businesses are utilising the Cloud as a form of virtualisation – multiple computers running off one physical machine. The Cloud is used as a central processing point. Users generally only utilise a small percentage of the power and resources of the Computer Processor sitting in front of them. Two staff could potentially share the one computer and still have enough power for their needs. This significantly reduces the cost. Some companies have taken it one step further, by downgrading the computer a bit more (thin clients), and using the server to store files and the operating system. You can even look into cheaper Microcomputers – where you have less hardware and stream everything you need directly from a cloud server.
All you need is a keyboard, monitor and mouse to access everything remotely. This is obviously very attractive to businesses, as there is practically no hardware and, as a result, very few ongoing maintenance costs. You could set this up internally, so that you have your own server to store and run everything, or you could hire an external company to provide these services and all you need to have is Internet access. This is probably one of the biggest demands on the Cloud. Nowadays, we have such high spec hardware that we don’t really need a computer on our desk anymore.
Generally the Cloud operates on an elastic effect for services, meaning it will temporarily increase and then snap back. All of a sudden you might do something that requires a lot more processing power than you normally use. The resources will simply grow for the time you need it. When you purchase Cloud services, you are often given a storage limit. This is so that the companies can charge you more for larger storage space. When they talk about using hardware, data points or computation power, they usually sell this as an elastic service, where the processing power can stretch if you need it to. Some companies even charge accordingly, so if you are only using 10% of processing power from a Cloud service, they will only charge 10%, but if tomorrow you use 100%, they’ll charge you 100%.
What causes a huge power spike?
If you are simply typing a document this won’t require many resources. However, if you put that document aside and open ten web pages simultaneously, you will need increased power to load up all of the webpages. You can see this in action by looking at your own computer’s resources.
- Hold down the Ctrl+Alt+Delete keys on the keyboard
- Select the Start Task Manager option
- Click on the Performance tab
- Try opening some web pages or running a couple of programs and see how the CPU & Memory (RAM) usage increases
CPU Usage increases when it needs to, and decreases once you are finished. The virtual world needs to be able to do the same, but the advantage is, you are only paying for what you use. In comparison, a laptop might cost you $1,000 and you are only using 10% of its power, so it’s not good value for money.
The elastic effect mentioned above makes cloud services very advantageous for web hosting. When a webpage is being hosted on a web server its sole purpose is to run that webpage. When people view that webpage the webserver has to communicate with their devices to send them the relevant data. Viewers on a webpage can fluctuate quite heavily, for example, if tickets for a concert go on sale a ticketing websites traffic is going to increase by potentially tens of thousands of viewers, as a result the web server needs to be able to handle this level of traffic. This shows how beneficial the elastic effect can be.
Regardless of whether you are logging into a PC at your desk or a virtualised PC across the country, you still have many of the age old security problems and challenges that come with any internet connected network.
Server security: The most common query is, “How secure are the Cloud servers?” Whether it’s a local server in your building or a hired server across the globe, security is always a concern. It largely comes down to you doing your homework on a provider and working out who you trust with your data.
Authentication: The most important, yet underrated, security risk is the username/password. Anything web-based is always at risk of being hacked or phished by cyber-criminals.
Tune into our blog next week, for some information on the types of Security Risks that exist when using Cloud Services.