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The computer technology
has experienced remarkable revolutions since the first generation computers in
the mid-20th century (Freed and Ishida, 1995). Recent innovations
have shown that data can be processed and shared on virtual platforms courtesy
of cloud computing. Other than accessing data on virtual servers, cloud
technology enables individuals and firms to store data and information in
virtual safe reserves for retrieval purposes when need be. This technology is
reviewed extensively from a number of perspectives with a view to understanding
its scope and usefulness in our contemporary society.      

Literature
Review

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Definition
of cloud computing

Kumar and Goudar (2012)
state that cloud computing is a new phenomenon which involves development of
parallel computing, a grid of distributed computing, and evolution of software,
utility computing, and virtualisation. The concept of cloud is metaphorical
because it describes web as a “space where computing has been pre-installed and
exist as a service” (p.356). Essentially, operating systems, storage,
applications, and processing power function interactively to share data on the
web. Kim (2009) gives a terse working definition of cloud computing as the
ability to access data, files, services, and programs with the help of a web
browser via the internet hosted by a third party provided. However, the said
services are charged. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) defines computing as a model for enabling convenient, universal,
on-demand access to a shared network of configurable computing accessories such
as servers, applications, storage, services, and networks. These computing resources
can be released and availed rapidly with less service provider interaction and
management effort.

 

      

The
advent of cloud computing

 After the main frame computer era, it became
possible to use virtualisation software where one or more operating systems
would be executed in an isolated environment. In the late 20th century,
telecommunication companies began offering virtual private network connections
users were provided with shared access to a physical infrastructure. Initially,
the grid computing was developed to solve large glitches with parallel
computing; utility computing offered computing resources as a metered service;
network-based subscriptions to application (SaaS), and cloud computing which
enabled access to IT resources anytime and anywhere delivered dynamically but
as a service. Oludele et al. (2014) state that mainframe users in the 1970s
experienced the initial implementation of symmetric processing and
virtualisation where multiple users could use resources of a single computer in
executing different processes simultaneously.

   

The
characteristics, service, and deployment models of cloud computing

Cloud computing is an
on-demand self-service where consumers can unilaterally utilise computing
functions such as network storage and server time without requiring any
interaction with the service providers. Cloud computing is also characterised
by the availability of a broad network access which allows thin and/or thick
clients to use the configurable resources. A lot of capabilities are available
over the network and can be accessed via standard mechanisms. Service provided
have to pool their computing resources to allow access by multiple consumes (in
case of a multi-tenant model). Normally, virtual and physical resources are
dynamically allocated and reallocated depending on the consumer demand.
Notably, the customer does not have the control over the exact location of the
resources because it is located independently. Usage of cloud resources is rapidly
elastic commensurate to inwards and outwards demand. More so, cloud computing
services are measured through a metering provision at certain levels of data
consumed and the type of service utilised. The cloud system automatically
optimises and controls resource use through the metering capability. Ideally,
resource usage can be controlled, monitored, and reported which provides
transparency for the user and service provider.

 There are three service models offered in this
technology namely software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (Paas), and
infrastructure as a service (IaaS) (Mell and Grance, 2011). Users are given the
opportunity to use applications available on a cloud infrastructure. It is
possible to access the applications using the clients’ devices through a
program interface or a web browser. This particular model does not allow users
to control or manage the cloud infrastructure including application
capabilities, servers, network, storage, and OS. However, there are
user-specific configuration settings for the provided applications. Platform as
a service (PaaS) enables consumers to deploy consumer-developed or acquired
applications (created through programming tools, services, libraries, and
language) onto the cloud infrastructure. It is worth noting that the
programming resources are supported by the service provider. Contrary to IaaS, consumers
have a bigger stake in managing and controlling the developed applications and
configuration settings for the “application-hosting environment” (p. 3). The
last service model is IaaS and this gives consumers an autonomy to use
computing resources complemented with possibilities of developing and running
arbitrary software (including operating systems and applications). Just like
the other two aforementioned service models, IaaS does not allow consumers to
manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure. However, they have
control over deployed applications, storage, and application systems. There is
a possibly limited control of choosing network accessories such as host
firewalls.

The cloud infrastructure
can be deployed in a number of ways. One way is to provide the cloud
infrastructure through private means (private cloud) to single large
organisations with multiple consumers for use. These organisations, a third
party, or a combination of the two can own, manage, and operate the infrastructure.
The community cloud is made available for exclusive use by a specific cliché of
consumers from organisations that share the same concerns like security
requirements, compliance, mission, and policy. One or more organisations, a
third party, or a combination of the two can own, manager, and operate the
infrastructure which are either on or off the premises. A public cloud is
availed for use by the general public and can be owned by the government,
academic, or business organisation and exists within the premises of the
provider. Lastly, a hybrid cloud combines two or more cloud infrastructures
such as private, community, or public which are considered as unique entities
though are regulated by proprietary or standardised technology that makes data
and application portability possible.    

       

Use
of cloud computing as a complement

Use of a cloud
infrastructure may be informed by the organisation or community’s decision to
allow multiple-users access, share, and process information simultaneously especially
where the conventional computing system is hard to utilise. For example,
government or academic organisations have a huge number of consumers, large
data to mine, and high demand which creates a suitable environment for cloud
computing. One important function of cloud computing as a complementary system
is data storage. Rao (2014) intuits that, “Data backups and cloud computing can
be treated as two separate subjects in one context and can be considered as
complementary in another context” (p. 263). A relatively recent phenomenon,
cloud computing assists in effective data storage besides being a low-cost
option in disaster recovery. In case a consumer or organisation loses data,
cloud data back-ups come in handy to assist in recovery and restoration of
data. Data backups are informed by the fact that physical hard disks are prone
to failures and damages leading to a single point of failure. Cloud data backup
ensures continued operation because of effective data restoration and this
ensures continued availability of systems in the period that systems have to be
restored. 

 

Why
use cloud computing

There are a number of positive attributes
attached to cloud computing systems. First, the ability of multiple-users
accessing information simultaneously makes it possible for many processes to be
run conveniently. It implies that many users can utilise the services of the
third party on the cloud infrastructure besides the convention computing
resources within the organisation. Cloud infrastructure serving big
organisations like government institutions, schools, hospitals, and private
organisations can harbour large data as a means of back up. Large memory sized
hard disks that are costly may be required to store a comparable size of data.
Consumers utilising the IaaS model have the capability of developing
applications and software to meet present needs and which can be redeveloped to
cater for new needs that are arising. Such a cloud infrastructure ensures
flexible access to the most recent software and applications but at a fee. Cloud
technology has minimised use of space especially where the infrastructure is
not within the premises. This is because the hardware and other computer resources
required in a conventional workstation set-up is not needed. 

Conversely, cloud
infrastructure has shortcomings that may discourage users either during first
experience or in the course of using it. Some deployment models such as
community, public, and hybrid clouds subject data to possibility of breach thus
lack of confidentiality and privacy. For instance, malicious consumers that are
using the PaaS and IaaS models in a public or community cloud can decide to
create software or applications that may harm the stored data until their
certain demands are met. Hackers located in virtual places can decide to
corrupt or destroy the data available unless a very strong protection system is
in place. It is worth noting that cloud technology works well where the
internet connection is strong and this calls for some investment in the initial
set-up of the infrastructure. Notably, developing nations are yet to realise
the benefits of cloud computing because the internet connectivity and
networking infrastructure is very poor. Consumers using models such as SaaS and
PaaS have limited control of the applications in the cloud infrastructure hence
cannot make any improvements in line with new dynamics they are experiencing.
If the third party service providers do not update their services and
applications to cope with new challenges, then consumers shy away from such
platforms.   

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