Cloud Computing Enhances Business Productivity
(Targeted News Service Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) CAIRO, March 7 -- The American University in Cairo issued the following news release:
There is a lot of buzz surrounding cloud computing. It is considered the "next big thing" in information technology, but is not understood by a lot of people. Most computer users do not realize that they are already "in the cloud," but anyone who accesses their email from a website such as Gmail, which hosts AUC's email accounts, or uses an application on their smartphone, is using cloud computing services.
"All of the principles that make up cloud computing have been around since the 1970s, but in the form of drafts and designs because computing hardware back then could not support it," said Amr El-Kadi, chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, who has been at the forefront of cloud computing research since he was an undergraduate. "It only started being called cloud computing in the last decade."
Cloud computing provides users with services, including software and storage, through web-based applications. Rather than storing all the data required to run an application on a personal device, this information is stored on a remote network of servers -- the cloud. Thus, users access programs through the Internet without having to install new software for every application they wish to use, and applications in the cloud run more efficiently because they are spread over a number of servers. "This means that users do not have to worry about programs taking up space on their hard drives, and they can use the more powerful cloud network to run programs that might be impossible for their personal computer to handle," said El-Kadi.
Although the notion of cloud computing has existed for decades, it is rapidly gaining momentum due to the proliferation of smart devices and high-speed Internet connections, as well as increased computing power and storage capacity on servers. According to a survey conducted by Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group in 2010, global enterprises will run 12 percent of their work in the cloud by 2013. In addition, CloudProviderUSA has posited that cloud computing is being used extensively across different U.S. industries, from financial services (63 percent) and manufacturing (62 percent) to health care (59 percent) and transportation (51 percent). It also notes that 7 out of 10 companies in the United States are using cloud services; at least 80 percent of new commercial enterprise applications have been deployed on cloud platforms in 2012; and by 2014, 60 percent of server workloads will be virtualized.
"With cloud computing, data stored in the cloud may be easily and quickly retrieved and updated by logging on from anywhwere using any digital device, without interrupting business operations and without the risk of losing data or unauthorized parties gaining access," said El-Kadi. "Companies can also upgrade their IT requirements as business expands, and collaboration among employees is enhanced through services such as chat, email and instant messaging. It is a very efficient system that optimizes business performance."
In Egypt, both corporate and individual users already rely to a certain extent on cloud computing. "Major information and communication technology companies are investing heavily into cloud computing both for private clouds and as service providers," said El-Kadi, who is a member of the Egyptian National Committee for Cloud Computing Research.
The essence of cloud computing is that users do not have to think much about it, which is what makes it appealing. In the cloud, files are replicated, so if one server crashes, data is not lost and processes can continue uninterrupted. "Take AUC, for example," explained El-Kadi. "Instead of every department or school having a separate server, you could have a cloud for the entire University that controls all of these networks, so the physical presence of the servers does not matter. They would appear to the users and would be administered as one large network. If all the campus servers were connected in a cloud and a failure happens in the physical server of the School of Sciences and Engineering, for example, automatically, the servers at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences would take over, and the user would be unaware that anything had gone wrong."
Cloud computing is responsive to user needs not only in terms of mitigating failures, but in automatically adjusting to what users are doing. "If I require a heavier load than usual, then the cloud is going to provide me with processing or resource power from other existing nodes," explained El-Kadi, adding that cloud computing is also more cost-efficient for both individual users and companies. "Through the cloud, users have access to more powerful resources than they can afford to buy, and they can do all this on the move from a personal digital assistant."
In companies, cloud computing means there is less of a need for on-site IT people. "That is the way Gmail helped big organizations," noted El-Kadi. "Companies don't have to deal with the process of setting up and administering email servers, which can be burdensome. This is outsourced, so they don't have to worry about administrative details, but there is also transparency and interoperability because you can link lots of different accounts in the Google cloud."
By accessing programs and data through the cloud, companies also do not have to buy and license software for every employee's computer; rather, everything employees need to perform their jobs effectively would be available in the cloud, eliminating the cost and hassle of installing the same software on every machine in an office.
According to CloudProviderUSA, a new server is added to the cloud for every 600 smartphones or 120 tablets. With such increasing use of cloud computing, many cloud-based applications charge up front. When users download a new application onto their smartphone, they often have to pay a one-time fee. However, people sometimes do not know what exactly they are being charged for and what resources they are using. "The word resource varies depending on what you are trying to measure," said El-Kadi. "From the user's point of view, resources are understood in terms of how many files or frames you are processing, but this has to be translated into the service provider's terms. On the service provider's end, this means determining how many central processing unit cycles are being utilized, how much voltage and bandwidth has been used, or how many networking messages have been exchanged. This is how providers decide how much to charge and whether or not they need to borrow resources from another cloud service to satisfy the customer's needs."
Hoping to create more transparency for users, El-Kadi is working with EMC, a top cloud provider in the United States, on a standardized metering system that would account for the resources being used. "Users would be able to tell exactly how much they are paying for each service they use and can compare between providers," said El-Kadi. "This would encourage competition among cloud service providers and drive prices down. There are multiple clouds, different companies and certain amount of competition, but they want to coexist. There is a lot of research going on to establish links so clouds can 'talk,' which is better for the end user."
Another issue of great importance is the virtualization of high-performance computing (HPC) within the cloud. High-performance computing makes use of thousands of processors interconnected through a high-speed network. This would make it easier for developers to create new applications, greatly expanding the services available to users. El-Kadi is currently engaged in research that aims to develop more realistic, robust and speedy applications. "HPC virtualization would make everything faster," he said.
Because cloud computing means storing data and information in a digital cloud rather than on one's personal hard drive, whether it be files, software or emails, one of the biggest concerns many users have is security. However, the 2010 Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group survey has shown that chief information officers believe they can improve security through the use of cloud computing. Similarly, El-Kadi argued that storing information in a cloud is actually more secure than keeping files on one's personal computer. "A regular person who just sets up a PC out of the box doesn't usually know how to make it secure," he asserted. "Doesn't it make more sense to trust professional engineers at a cloud center who know what they are doing As long as you are using a device to connect to the Internet, there is no way your data is going to be 100 percent secure. This is impossible." Further, because cloud service providers are in competition, there is an incentive for them to ensure that their networks are secure, as any compromise of security is likely to make news and hurt business.
El-Kadi also maintains that cloud service providers do not have any property rights to data that is stored in the cloud. "If you put something in the cloud, you own it," he said. "You can decide who has access to it or how much access they have. If you have files in the Google cloud, Google cannot bypass your access rights. This is unethical."
Nevertheless, data that is in the cloud must still follow legal guidelines, as governments have the right to access someone's files if they believe the individual or corporation possesses stolen material or information that compromises national security. "If you download something illegally and put it in a cloud, you are responsible for it being illegal, and your government could say to the cloud provider, 'I think there are illegal files in here, and I want to look around and see,'" said El-Kadi.
With the cloud computing industry well-established as a reliable enterprise, over the coming years, it will become unthinkable not to be in the cloud. "It's just like cell phones," said El-Kadi. "At first, they were a niche; there were a lot of people who didn't see the need for them. Now, if you leave home without your phone, you are missing something really important. Eventually, being in the cloud is going to be normal in this way."
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