Cloud: The New Clout in Computing
You must have heard about Kalidasa’s Meghdoot, a classical Sanskrit poem from 5th century India. It is the story of a Yaksha (a Demi-God from Indian mythology) who was estranged from his beloved wife due to exile. He asks the cloud to carry a message northward from his place of banishment in Central India to his wife, who resided in the mighty Himalayas. Kalidasa, not only poetically captures the pain of estrangement and longing between the lovers but also beautifully describes the picturesque landscape as encountered by the messenger cloud.
In the new age, the buzzword in the technological town is cloud computing. Today let’s reflect on the definition, need and applications of cloud technology.
Cloud Tech – What is it?
Imagine hosting a party at your house but not having the huge kitchen space and utensils to cook food for the guests. In that case, you can rent the kitchen equipments for a day and prove to be a great host by serving healthy and home-cooked food to the guests. This, is essentially the basis of Cloud Technology.
Simply put, cloud is about acquiring data processing and storing capabilities without actually owning them. To illustrate, suppose you own an e-commerce website that can cater to 1000 customers a day. But around the time of festivals, the website traffic increases to 5000 a day, which shall again normalise to 1000 once the holiday season is over. Now, spending lakhs of rupees in expanding the capacity of your servers to serve the five-fold increase that occurs during the short duration of about a month, seems unfeasible. This is because, for the remaining 11 months, the enlarged infrastructure has little utility and can instead prove to be the proverbial white elephant for the business. But you somehow still need to build the technical feasibility so as to serve the increased demand for your products. This is where the cloud services come in. You can quite easily subscribe to one of the available cloud services and use their servers in order to enhance the capabilities of your website to serve 5k customers per day instead of 1k. This model of renting out servers, storage, databases, computational power, etc. is known as Cloud Technology.
Amazon Web Services, a market leader in the cloud domain, defines Cloud Computing as the ‘on-demand delivery of IT resources over the Internet with pay-as-you-go pricing’. The success of cloud is attributed to its flexible payment model and availability of diverse computing resources. As the tech is dependent on internet for its operations, it is called cloud because the symbol for internet used in flowcharts resembles the a cloud drawn by school children.
Decentralised Computing: The Principle Behind Cloud
Decentralised or Distributed Computing is when the computational task is distributed amongst individual (separate) workstations or computers. This method ensures that the resources (hardware as well as software) of each computing machine are utilised for the purpose of the task. These computers or other resources such as servers or storages could be distributed anywhere around the globe. Hence, they are controlled and managed separately. Yet they work together in a coherent manner due to the presence of a ‘cloud controller’ that allocates, controls and manages resources. A single resource can efficiently serve many different applications by efficiently managing its time.
This form of computing is in direct opposition with Centralized Computing that includes carrying out of computations at a central location, along with central control. Though decentralised computing is generally opted for by small and medium businesses, most of the large corporations have their own centers that cater to their huge computational needs. This is because setting up, managing and maintenance of computing centers is a capital-intensive task. Hence, it is better to prefer centralized computing only in case of sensitive data storage such as financial institutions or large corporations with worldwide operations. Many multinationals also use a hybrid data processing model whereby they use the cloud resources along with in-house computing.
Because the cloud uses Decentralised Computing, the memory, processor power, etc. is generally distributed over a number of devices at various locations. Thus, the photographs you store on iCloud could be saved on storage systems in North America while you are based in India. Similarly, the applications that use cloud such as Gmail, Netflix or Spotify, are known to utilize the processing and memory resources of the local devices such as laptop or mobile phone (known as the client-side system) and those over the cloud (called a server-side system).
Applications of Cloud (apart from creating rain!! Cheeky, ehh? :D)
Real-world applications of cloud computing span diverse disciplines such as education, business, entertainment and gaming. Due to low operational costs, zero maintenance pay-outs and hassle-free access to high quality and speedy processing infrastructure, clouds have become popular with service providers as well as product manufacturers.
Let us discuss two of the most commonly used applications of cloud –
1) Cloud for Data Storage – You might be familiar with using iCloud, Google Drive or Gmail to store your photographs, videos, PDFs and other digital valuables. All this data is stored in a remotely located storage which can be accessed only by you. A cloud storage unit is analogous to a bank wherein you can withdraw money only from your account though the facility hosts resources of multiple others.
2) Cloud for Computing Needs – A smart camera installed in the main square of your city captures millions of bytes of data each second. It is not quite possible to store this Big Data within the paltry storage of the camera system. This is why cloud services are employed by connecting the camera and the processor at the remote location via internet. By employing machine learning, image recognition and computer vision algorithms, it is possible to detect over-speeding or red-light jumping, at real time. All these services are hosted on a cloud to provide ease of processing and storage at relatively lower costs.
Legal Issues: The Dark Lining to the Silver Cloud
Due to the huge demand for cloud services, Google, Amazon and Microsoft have forayed into the business and are leading the market. Because of huge investments by these tech giants in cloud infrastructure, today it is possible to access high computational power at a fraction of cost. But this tech does come with its downsides. Due to the remote nature of cloud, the technology is embroiled in many controversies and legal problems. Let’s take a look at them –
1. Data Ownership: The ownership of data and related Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) lie with the enterprise that generates the data. But the ownership of data that is generated within the cloud system – for example, the data generated through the cloud analytics tool – could be a bone of contention if not specified in the agreement.
2. Data Protection: Governments and citizens whose personal data such as financial information, passwords, etc. are stored by corporations in cloud, are wary of allowing their sensitive data to be exported, lest it might fall into the hands of unscrupulous or rival entities. Applications that map every nook and corner of the country such as Google Maps, are considered to be great risks to the security and sovereignty of the nation, hence governments strongly oppose storing of such data in servers outside the country. ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ by European Union disallows exporting of any user data outside the union and compels corporations to provide the users with control over their data. Similar legislation is in the offing in India too.
3. Data Security & Privacy: Data security breaches at the server-side can endanger the sensitive information of customers as well as the reputation of a company that collects the data. There is also lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for paying compensation to the affected persons in case of data breach. Jurisdiction issues also crop up as the locations of data generation and storage differ. Each government wants its own laws to be applicable, thus creating a legal mess and in turn, endangering the privacy of millions of users.
MeghRaj: The King of Clouds
In order to benefit from the new technology while still preserving the national security and privacy of its citizens, Government of India launched MeghRaj, the National Cloud Computing initiative in 2014. It aims at better harnessing the new technology for efficient delivery of government e-services.
Cloud Computing, with its advantages of excellent accessibility, low maintenance cost and increased mobility is a go-to solution for many of the storage and resource-paucity issues of businesses – whether small scale units or multinational corporations.
With the projected year-on-year growth of 21%, cloud is a major contributor to the global GDP. With concerns around security and privacy of data, alongside legal issues with the technology, it is imperative that national agencies – private or public – come forward to fill the gap between demand for cloud services and its supply. This approach shall ensure that the benefits of technology are mobilized, while still achieving data control.
Vishvali Deo is an E&TC (Electronics and Telecommunication) Engineer by education and Software Engineer by Profession. She believes that 'Technology is a Great Democratising and Equalising Force' and hence is on a mission to make the general public understand seemingly complex technologies in a simple manner.
She is convinced that the root of today's world problems lie in the past, hence she has also pursued post-graduation in History. She has a keen interest and a good grip over Economics, Political Science and Environmental Engineering. She has a penchant for working with Women and spreading Digital Literacy amongst them, with the aim of their empowerment. She also strives to provide Free Quality Education to children and counsels young adults. Besides, she is also skilled at Public Speaking, having won many awards in Elocution & Debate Competitions and Technical Paper Presentations.