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Is There a Silver Lining Inside Cloud Computing?

By Carl Weiss

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Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple years, you’ve either heard of or are now using cloud computing. The Cloud sounds so peaceful, beautiful, and magnificent. But like all clouds, there are many different kinds and even though they can have silver linings, they can also bring rain and thunder. Today, users are looking to save money by embracing it. IT pros are implementing it to lower their cost forinfrastructure and investors are plowing money into it looking to make a profit.

Likewise, you have to ask yourself these questions: How can I use the cloud to line my pockets with silver? Can I do it by saving money or by making more is the real question at hand. In today’s blog, we’ll look at the emergence of cloud computing as a way of both making and saving money.  We’ll also point out some of the movers and shakers in the industry, as well as identifying some well-heeled interlopers who are trying to rain on everybody’s parade.

Most people think that cloud computing is a relatively new technology.  The truth is that it’s been around since the 1960s. A blog on points out:

“The idea of an ‘intergalactic network’ was introduced in the '60s by J.C.R. Licklider, who was responsible for enabling the development of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1969. His vision was for everyone on the globe to be interconnected and accessing programs and data at any site, from anywhere, explained Margaret Lewis, product marketing director at AMD. It is a vision that sounds a lot like what we are calling cloud computing."

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Even back then, while other experts in the field thought computing would inevitably be rendered as a kind of public utility, it wasn’t until 1999 that the bandwidth required was broad enough to accomplish the task.  That was when began pioneering the concept of delivering enterprise solutions via the web.  This was followed by, which, in 2002, started vending cloud storage and computing.  By 2006, this service morphed into a commercial service called Elastic Compute Cloud, which permitted small businesses to run their applications remotely.  By 2009 Google and Microsoft jumped into cloud computing in a big way, which legitimized and promoted the cloud computing concept as a user-friendly resource.

Other criteria that took the concept away from early adopters to make it more mainstream were the obvious financial benefits that the technology offered in terms of backing up data, as well as increased storage capacity without having to invest in new hardware.  The downside was that those wishing to store sensitive data on the cloud had to deal with the worrisome question of online security.

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Andreas Asander, vice-principal of product management at virtualization security specialist Clavister, said that once the security issues are resolved, cloud computing services "can enable an enterprise to expand its infrastructure, add capacity on demand, or outsource the whole infrastructure, resulting in greater flexibility, a wider choice of computing resources and significant cost savings."

What Color is Your Cloud?

While the cloud offers a number of opportunities to users, currently there are three operating models:
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – IaaS provides physical or virtual machines, image libraries, block storage, firewalls, IP addresses, Virtual Local Area Networks, and software bundles to users.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – The PaaS model provides a computing platform such as a web server where programmers and developers can run their software solutions on a platform without having to buy and manage the hardware.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – SaaS users are provided access to databases and/or applications for a flat or monthly fee.  In an SaaS model, users access the software from the cloud client. 

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While users can access all of the above-mentioned services using a variety of devices, some users rely on the cloud to run nearly all their applications.  The cloud services can be mixed and matched depending upon the user’s needs.  

Generally, there are six service models from which to choose:
  • Private Cloud is an infrastructure designed and managed for the users of a single entity or organization. Corporate data centers are examples of private clouds. The infrastructure for these data centers can be either managed internally or by a third-party. 
  • Public Cloud renders services to the general public.  Providers such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft provide public access to their managed data centers via the Internet.
  • Hybrid Clouds are created when two or more cloud services from different providers are offered to users.  They can pull together some combination of public, private, and community cloud services under one umbrella.
  • Community Clouds serve several organizations with a common interest.  This way, costs can be shared between two or more organizations wishing to avail themselves of a Private Cloud.
  • Distributed Clouds are where a Community Cloud allows organizations to share cloud resources; a Distributed Cloud shares machines located at different locations by a single network or hub service.
  • Multicloud uses multiple services to reduce the risk of a single vendor going down and thus leaving the user with no service.  

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Let’s look at the many benefits that cloud computing has to offer. Cloud computing, when implemented with safeguards, can save individuals and especially businesses huge amounts of money on infrastructure, security, process management, software cost, content distribution and team collaboration.

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Ten real benefits that cloud computing offers today:

1. It can achieve economies of scale – You can increase output and productivity with less people. Your cost per project, unit or product will go down.

2. Inexpensively globalize your workforce – Your employees worldwide can access the cloud with any kind of Internet connection to collaborate and share information.

3.Reduce the need to keep up technology and infrastructure upgrades - for hardware, software, etc.

4. Reduce capital expenditures – This lowers your need to for purchasing new hardware, software licensing, and labor to install all of these assets.

5. You can codify and streamline processes on a global scale – All of your employees can be using the same software and thus using the same process to complete work.

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6. You can monitor your business globally – The cloud allows you to manage employee access and security worldwide.

7. Improved access – likewise you have worldwide access. You can gain access anywhere you have a smart device and an Internet connection.

8. It will lower the cost of training, especially if you standardize on the use of cloud SaaS(Software as a Service) programs to run your business.

8. In most cases, it will save you money on annual software licensing. SaaS monthly fees are usually much lower than the cost for ongoing purchase of software licenses per employee.

10. You’ll have greater flexibility to add news capabilities, divest from an existing relationship or change directions. You can scale your needs up and down seasonally as well as economically.

The Dark Cloud

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The biggest danger to cloud users has to do with privacy and security. Since users are relying on a third-party to host their data, the primary concern is that the service provider and/or their employees can access this data.  Anyone with access to the data could either accidentally or purposely alter or delete the data.  Since some cloud providers share access to this information with outside entities, this would mean that the only practical way to protect the data would be to encrypt it.

In cloud services such as social networks or blogging platforms (which are a kind of cloud service), the information contained therein is not only shared with the hosting agency, but they actively profit from data mining this information.  What many people are unaware of is that all of the information displayed on social nets and blogs is actually owned by the service provider and not the author.

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There is also the real risk a hacker can not only gain access to a user’s cloud service, but it’s also possible for a hacker to not only alter the content contained in the cloud, but to lock out legitimate users.  It’s not uncommon for hackers to demand a ransom in order to have the legitimate user’s access restored.  (Failure to pay the ransom usuallycauses the hacker to delete the users' information.)  It is also possible that hackers can use the information gleaned from a user’s social networks to hack their way into a user’s computer, tablet and/or smartphone.

In a recent article in entitled, “Hackers Ramp Up Computer Attacks That  Demand Ransom,” Erin Coker points out:

“Hackers operating on the Internet's ‘Dark Web’ are spreading a new, more sophisticated generation of the malicious software known as ‘ransomware,” anonymously shaking down anyone with an unprotected computer, from lawyers and cops to small businesses. Where small groups of anonymous hackers once hit individual consumers, the hackers have now organized into crime syndicates that boldly launch massive attacks against entire companies.”

She also pointed out these attacks are usually initiated when someone boots up, only to find an ominous warning with a ticking countdown clock, informing them that they have a limited time to pay the ransom or risk the destruction of their data. This can result in one of three scenarios:
  • The user pays up and their asset is unlocked.
  • The user runs out of time and their data is destroyed or their machine is locked permanently.
  • The user pays and the hacker takes the money only to renege on freeing the user’s data or machine.

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 When you take into consideration that some of these coordinatedransomware attacks were successfully delivered to hundreds of thousands of victims in ten days, this results in tens of millions of dollars in ransom.

The worst thing is that ransomwareis on the rise.  The FBI’s website states:

Ransomware has been around for several years, but there’s been a definite uptick lately in its use by cyber criminals. And the FBI, along with public and private sector partners, is targeting these offenders and their scams. . Recently, we’re seeing an increasing number of incidents involving so-called ‘drive-by’ ransomware, where users can infect their computers simply by clicking on a compromised website, often lured there by a deceptive e-mail or pop-up window. Another new trend involves the ransom payment method. While some of the earlier ransomware scams involved having victims pay ‘ransom’ with pre-paid cards, victims are now increasingly asked to pay with Bitcoin, a decentralized virtual currency network that attracts criminals because of the anonymity the system offers.”

The bottom line is while cloud computing is a tremendous boon to the public in terms of saving time and money when it comes to accessing computing power, unless serious security issues are resolved, there could come a time when cloud computing disappears like a puff of smoke.

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