Store it in the Cloud!

Once upon a time, in mid twentieth century, the Internet slowly started to form. It was undeveloped and hard to describe. On paper, diagrams and presentations it was usually shaped like a cloud; a shapeless being, somewhere out there that brought a service to computers. At around the same time in 1961, Professor John McCarthy suggested in a speech at MIT that computing could be sold like a utility, like electricity or water. However, the technology at the time was incapable of producing such a service. After all, computers were still a very new technology. Mainframe computers were mostly used by businesses for computation like census data processing and statistics, for example. Computers were massive and took hours to compute a problem. The idea of a personal and easily accessible computer was just as ridiculous as the concept of utility computing.

Information Systems Professor Ramnath Chellappa first used the term “cloud computing” in 1997. In 1999, Salesforce started delivering applications to users using a simple website. The services firm paved the way for both specialist and mainstream software firms to deliver applications over the Internet. This was the first instance that McCarthy’s idea truly came to light. However, this service was hardly widespread. While several other companies such as Amazon offered these services to businesses, it was not until 2009 that Google, along with a few others, started to offer browser-based enterprise applications through services such as Google Apps.

The present form of cloud computing provides computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require users to know the physical location of the system that delivers the services. A cloud essentially works similarly to an electricity grid, in that the user has electricity (or data in this case), without knowing exactly how the electricity works or how it is produced.

The two biggest concerns about cloud computing are security and privacy. Companies may hesitate to take advantage of a cloud system because they can’t keep their company’s information under their own lock and key. However, companies offering cloud services rely on good reputations when handling sensitive information. Reliable security is absolutely necessary for these businesses to thrive. If the security fails, the service would lose all of its clients. Privacy is another matter and easily fixed by employing an authorization format. Here, each user can access only the data and applications that are relevant to his or her job. Apple, for example, encrypts all content that is sent over the Internet and stored in iCloud. Google hires the world’s leading security experts to protect their systems and applies biometric access controls and multi-tiered security parameters. As far as reliability goes, data and user actions in Google Apps are mirrored across multiple data centers. If one data center becomes unavailable for any reason, Google’s system is designed to fall back to a secondary data center, without interrupting the customers’ service.

Data centers aren’t exactly known for sustainability. The power hogs are responsible for 1.5% of all power use in the United States. As the use of cloud technology grows, the need for mega-data centers to store information increases with it. Larger companies like IBM, Google and HP have already made strides in cutting energy consumption by data centers. Google, for example, recently revealed that its data centers use half as much energy as standard data centers. Cooling towers evaporate excess heat and recycle cooled-down water back into the facility. Fortunately, it’s in the best interest of companies running data centers to cut down on power costs, which in turn makes the clouds a little greener.

And the all the data in the cloud lived happily ever after.