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Decoding Cloud Computing

By Anjan Baishya

Information Technology (IT) has made its presence felt in every aspect of life. But along with IT has come huge amounts of data. Data is the vital aspect of all forms of life. The more data we have, the more precise and accurate the conclusion. But along with huge amount of data has come a new problem – space. The problem to store more and more data has become a big headache for big organisations. No doubt they could buy more storage devices and store the data, but the problem did not end there. The next problem which came along with storage problem was maintenance, which means more manpower, more physical space (to store those devices) and last but not the least, security, be it in the sense of physical theft, cyber theft, viruses, natural & artificial calamities — and to maintain all of these means huge amount of money. An IT company may well think to have its own IT storage house or Data Centre, but a non-IT company will think twice before incurring such a big expense. Alternatively even if a company plans of have its own IT storage house, the IT peripherals along with all the other accessories will be a very big bargain for the company. But as the saying goes ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, so when people started to feel the necessity, a magnificent alternative solution came – namely, ‘Cloud Computing’. 
Cloud Computing was developed after much research and development by Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider in 1960. But Licklider’s primary motive was to connect computers on a common platform where all the computers can access all programs/software and likewise among themselves, which in other words can also be termed as Internet – means interconnectivity of networks. This article will focus more on Cloud Computing rather than Inter/Intra Networks. The concept of cloud computing though old, is rather a new /unaccepted concept at least in this part of the country, where IT is not in full blossom. So, the biggest question – What is cloud computing? Cloud computing is nothing but sharing of resources such as computer, servers, storage devices, IO (input/output) devices and applications from anywhere in the world via Internet. This allows users to store/process and retrieve data either on a private cloud or on a third party cloud, thus making data more accessible with minimal cost and time. It enables organizations to store large volumes of data with minimal storage cost. This allows organizations to divert funds and ideas to other primary aspects, which otherwise would have been incurred by their in-house IT cell. Cloud Computing enables organizations to run their desired applications at faster and more reliably with less maintenance and manpower. And with the cost of IT peripherals coming down since last few years, Cloud Computing has been rapidly climbing up the ladder of success. In recent past, some Cloud Computing vendors has been able to make profits up to 50%, thus making Cloud Computing effectively cheaper and affordable. 
In August 2006 Amazon introduced its Elastic Compute Cloud. It was released on 1 February, 2010 as Windows Azure before being renamed to Microsoft Azure on 25 March 2014. In July 2010, Rackspace Hosting and NASA jointly launched an open-source cloud-software initiative known as ‘OpenStack’, which intended to help organizations by offering cloud-computing services running on standard hardware. On March 1, 2011, IBM announced the IBM SmartCloud framework to support ‘Smarter Planet’. On June 7, 2012, Oracle announced the Oracle Cloud. While aspects of Oracle Cloud are still in development, this cloud offering is poised to be the first to provide users with access to an integrated set of IT solutions. In April 2008, Google released Google App Engine. In May 2012, Google Compute Engine was released in preview, before being rolled out into general availability in December 2013.
 Cloud Computing can basically be divided into 3 types:
1) Private Cloud: Private cloud specifically belongs to one single organization and maintained basically by the organisation’s internal IT team or a hired third party team who sets up the infrastructure and maintains it. Suppose a situation arises where a particular organization has offices spread across the world and they have some very sensitive internal resources which they need to access/share on regular basis. As it may not be feasible to have a Data Storage Centre in each and every location, the organization may setup a Data Centre in a particular location. In such a situation, the organization can create a private cloud where only authorized persons across the globe can access the recourses from the centralized storage location. The organization may create a VPN (Virtual Private Network) among its offices spread across the world, and then can access the necessary documents from different locations. But private cloud has its own problems. Suppose for any reason the Data Centre is down, then none of the locations can access the data. Also when there will be con-current users accessing the data from one location, data access will become slow, apart from the fact that distance from the host and data centre also matters to some extent. Alternatively, the easy solution is to have multiple data centres at multiple locations, but it will incur huge cost in terms of IT peripherals, manpower, security and likewise. So to ease up these issues, the need for Public Cloud came into existence.
2) Public Cloud: Public cloud, as the name indicates, is open and available for the public and anyone may use it for personal or professional use. A public cloud is no different from a private cloud except the fact that it is maintained by a third party and is available in internet for either free/paid service. The public cloud takes way the headache of IT maintenance cost in storing huge volume of data. But general public/organisations have always been wary in using public cloud services for the obvious reason of data security (in any form). However, these public clouds use special type of algorithms to encrypt the data (received from organizations using their data spaces) for the obvious reason that encrypted data will take less space and provide security to the data as well. Some of the common public clouds available in the market are Google Drive (which many smartphones have nowadays), Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Apple icloud, Media Dropbox, Microsoft Skydrive, Ubuntu One and likewise.
3) Hybrid Cloud: Hybrid Cloud can be considered a linkman between private and public cloud. Suppose we have a scenario where a group of hospitals have presence in different counties with at least say 2-3 hospitals in each country. In such a scenario, each country can have its own private cloud, which means that if the organization has its presence in say 3 countries, then they will have 3 private clouds. Now the organization may put all these private clouds in one single cloud i.e. in a public cloud. This connection of the private cloud with the public cloud is termed as hybrid cloud. Also there might be a situation where an organization may have a temporary data storage constraint; in such a situation, the organization may club their private cloud with a public cloud, thereby creating a hybrid cloud.
Like all things in the world, cloud computing too has its limitations and disadvantages. The teams behind these public clouds usually work on the companies’ policies rather than the vendors’ policies, and may thereby violate the legal obligations of its vendors. Also, sharing the internet bandwidth by these cloud organisations may lead to data leakage or access bottlenecks. There are also reports of security breach by hackers for public clouds like dropbox and icloud. But then the threat of security breach is also there for private clouds as well. To sum up, Cloud Computing is still an area of research where many modifications are going on round the globe.  Major companies have been spending millions of dollars in its. But the base line is that cloud computing has definitely made life easier in terms of data storage and accessibility from any part of the world.
(Anjan Baishya is IT Consultant, ILRMS, Kamrup (M). He can be reached on [email protected])