Most people connected to computers or mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones use Internet-based cloud applications, whether to access mail or multimedia content on the go or to connect with friends or colleagues via social media. Yet for them the Cloud remains an abstract concept. Many are not even aware of what the Cloud means.
The business community, on the other hand, is aware of cloud computing and of its benefits. It makes it possible for small businesses to have access to extensive IT software and technical services solutions on a subscription basis, without having to rely on an expensive in-house infrastructure or full-time IT staff they cannot always afford. Furthermore, using a range of cloud-based platforms for storage or file exchange makes the technical needs of small businesses easily scalable.
Fast growing market
As more and more businesses, big and small, come to rely on cloud computing, spending on global cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) are expected to grow at a much higher rate than overall enterprise IT spending.
Gartner predicts that spending on IaaS will "reach almost USD 16,5 billion in 2015, an increase of 32,8% from 2014, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2014 to 2019 forecast at 29,1%". IaaS is the segment with the highest growth in the cloud computing sector, but spending on SaaS and PaaS will also experience very healthy growth rates.
Cloud computing makes it possible for businesses and individuals not physically close to one another to collaborate and share information and ideas. This decentralization of content and information allows small businesses to go global and global businesses to go local through awareness of local needs and realities.
It also gives individuals and businesses that do not have large IT resources the ability to benefit from additional computing power by linking to institutional machines. Students in some art and design schools now have access to university hosted cloud-based services designed to facilitate rapid rendering of complex 3D designs.
However, the wealth of data made available by cloud computing sometimes makes it difficult to sift through the clutter to select what is relevant. Tools to achieve this are still lacking.
Actually, where is the Cloud?
International regulation of cloud computing services is emerging as an issue that is linked to different national regulations and to data security. Owners of data may be resident in one country, but their data may be held on cloud servers in one or more other countries. Examples of questions that are cropping up are: who owns the data, who controls it, what happens if data is moved from one country to another? These are issues that have yet to be tackled as cloud computing is relatively recent and, as usual, laws have to catch up with facts and reality.
Security of data held on the Cloud is a major issue. Reports of some high-profile cases of intrusion into cloud storage systems and tampering with data have made users wary in terms of the integrity of the data they may be willing to keep on the Cloud.
However, IT security specialists point to the fact that there is a huge difference between the security approach of banks and of free file-sharing companies; the latter has a more lax approach to data security. The IEC has been involved in developing International Standards that are aimed at protecting IT systems from intrusion or mitigating their impact (see article on cybersecurity in this e-tech).
Greening the Cloud
One issue that is seldom noted is that IT in general, and now the fast expanding realm of cloud computing too, is not necessarily synonymous with green activities. In common with many other pieces of IT equipment, large data centres used by cloud and other storage services are high consumers of energy.
The IT sector is responsible for 2% of CO2 emissions, the same volume as the aviation industry. Solutions for reducing the carbon footprint of the IT sector, and in particular of data centres, can be found in introducing more economical servers that are up to 85% more energy efficient. Data centres can also be located in places/countries where renewable energies are available or where operators install renewable energy sources to cover part of their power needs.
International Standards key to cloud computing’s future
A comprehensive overview of the importance of International Standards for cloud computing was given to e-tech in January 2014 by Don Deutsch, Chairman of Subcommittee 38: Distributed Application Platforms and Services, of Joint Technical Committee 1 on information technology, set up by the IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38).
Deutsch stressed that standards were needed for clarity and interoperability and to guide the transition to cloud computing. He further indicated that ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 38 was “uniquely positioned to serve as a consolidator of cloud computing standards because of the JTC 1 Publicly Available Specification (PAS) process. This allows specifications developed through consensus processes outside the formal structure to be transposed into JTC 1 and recognized as International Standards”.
Many issues to be resolved
Cloud computing is still relatively young, even if it is growing at a rapid pace. As a result some issues have already emerged and more will undoubtedly appear later. The IEC has been involved in tackling some of them, such as IT security and energy-efficient systems, but as more surface, a greater IEC contribution will be needed.