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Essay: Cloud computing evolution, upsides and downsides

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Introduction

Cloud computing as defined by IBM (2017) refers to the online delivery of services on-demand via the internet which enables businesses, whether small, medium or large adapt quickly to changes in scale and scope, whilst offering the flexibility to utilise when required. A simplified example of cloud computing in our day to day activities, is use of an iCloud account on iPhones to store and manage their files accessible from anywhere in the world.  Cloud computing has taken over the Information Technology space and in the forecast by Louis Columbus (2017), the growth is a massive nineteen percent (19%). The market capitalisation is also expecting a jump from USD67 billion in 2015 to USD162 billion by the end of 2020.

EVOLUTION OF CLOUD COMPUTING

When most of us think of the word cloud, one of the Information Tech giant’s that immediately comes to our mind is IBM. Since 2014, as one of the many trying to embrace the digital data disruption changing the face of day-day life, an article released by Maximilliano D Neto (2014) on the IBM website gave a refreshing perspective.  He dated back the first use of shared services to the mid 90’s through ‘mainframe computing’ where multiple users were interlinked through terminals to access mainframes due to the huge capital outlay involved. In early 1970’s, virtual desk toping was gradually introduced with software like Citrix, VMware enabling remote access to systems catapulting speed of communication to a different level. Telecommunication Industry further launched Virtual Private Networking in 1990’s which involved the use of shared network connections, resulting in a significant decrease in infrastructure costs.

Arif Mohamed (2009) holds a similar view while opining that the scope of cloud computing increased post 1990’s with Salesforce introducing an enterprise-wide approach in a simplistic and holistic manner. IBM is nowhere mentioned in his idea of cloud computing evolution, however Amazon Web Services, Google Apps find mentions in his article. In the report published by Gartner (2017), spend on Information Technology decreased by 4.5 times that spent on Cloud services.  Today, the continuous evolution of the concept of sharing/accessing services remotely lead to cloud computing – Software as a service (SaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a service (IaaS).  The newest addition is the Cloud Business Process Services (BPaaS) and Cloud Advertising expected to generate 50% of the global revenue in cloud services.

CLOUD COMPUTING – THE UPSIDE

In an article published by Joe McKendrick (2014), he expressed that businesses would embrace cloud computing more as a business strategy than as an IT strategy. Forbes (2014) listed three key reasons namely, organisational agility, continuous innovation and cost reduction for cloud computing to fall under the strategic umbrella than an IT decision.  This was proved in the Harvard Business Review – Verizon Enterprises Report (2015), with positives such as the following

  • Simplifying business processes and business operations (37%)
  • Faster turnaround times achieved in business resources (33%)
  • Increased employee engagement, innovation and satisfaction (31%)
  • Ability to adapt to disruption better than competitors (23%) and
  • Improved utilisation of data and decision-making (23%)

The survey was conducted amongst 452 global organisations and it was highlighted that over 65% of them have already deployed cloud computing. The rate of usage increase was a staggering 85% while 75% also hinting that they had a competitive edge because of cloud. From what was initially considered a stay-ahead of competitors’ tool, today cloud has evolved to become the backbone of businesses across the world.

In addition to the above intangible benefits, cloud computing also offers tangible benefits by increasing business profitability. In fact, the cost savings are higher for SME’s as it encourages establishment of new businesses by significantly cutting down infrastructure costs. Another advantage is immediate economies of scale as server optimisation is quicker and better. Also, workforce planning is optimal as hiring of new employees can be done in line with growing size of business or outsourcing some functions is also possible. An article in Forbes by Gina Longoria (2016) clearly outlined adopting the cloud approach resulted in a mammoth 37% cost savings to Rackspace, one of the leading companies in the world.

The positive ripples of cloud computing are not just felt in business/economy, but also in communication and the way we live. Microsoft (Mandava, 2016) published an interesting article as to how cloud computing is helping public speakers or people who want to polish their communication skills practice better via a ROC Speak. A more closer day-day example would be Siri-a cloud based voice recognition service from Apple, which I use to polish my pronunciation and prepare for my English tests. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube all use cloud to constantly provide instant connectivity to friends and family across the world. It is due to the positive impact of cloud that students across the world including me can participate on online forums, submit assignments and research better.  Another invaluable positive is mobile apps like Health, which store and track data of users which will continuously disrupt and transform the Healthcare industry, enabling better monitoring of global health records (IBM, 2017).

CLOUD COMPUTING – THE DOWNSIDE

One majorly voiced flipside of the growing popularity of cloud computing is the lack of privacy to data. Data privacy is a major concern, and as published in the news yesterday, Equifax was the latest victim with over 143 million customer information falling prey to hackers. Equifax being a global company has jeopardised millions of Australian and Asian customers’ data as well and this is touted to be one of the deadliest data breach in history (Smiley, 2017). The most shocking news was the secret share disposal carried out by the Top management before making the breach news public, highlighting not legal but ethical issues as well (Melin, 2017).

Since 2004, the number of companies who have been reprimanded for such data breaches is high. Total number of data breaches recorded are over 30,000 with big names like Snapchat, JP Morgan Chase, AOL, Yahoo, EBay, Sega, LinkedIn, Virginia Department of Health and US Military featuring in this list. The losses from such breaches are millions and IBM published the cost of such breaches globally to be at 148million (IBM, 2017). The figure may indicate just financial losses, but the impact of non-financial losses is significant that published.

One such example is the growing concerns in Australia around cybersecurity and terrorism as the laws for Data Security are not tight. An article published by News.com.au (2016) clearly pointed out that there are flaws on the Australian Government Networks which can lead to compromise of the countries security. The total count of such serous attacks on Government websites are 1095 to date and are expected to increase.

Although cloud computing poses questions such as ‘who is the true owner of data’, ‘who controls the data’ the one major risk every business, country and its people felt and continue to feel is data leaks/ breaches.

CONCLUSION

Gone are the days when questions around whether technology is a boon to mankind or not continue to linger. Businesses, people and governments have realised the importance of cloud computing and have embraced it beautifully. However, what they have failed to do is have a strong data privacy policy in place. Focus on cost reduction in business operations and lack of investment in strong internal data control policies is the contributing factor for the high-risk levels today. Every new advancement will no doubt have its own pros and cons. If stronger data control policies and heavy penalties upon organisations are not enforced promptly, security of everyone around the world would be compromised. Though I am in favour of cloud computing to improve and contribute to the economy, I would strongly opine that businesses should be investing more resources in teaching/ learning and developing stronger IT security policies on par with their investment in cloud services.

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