What is Cloud Computing?

The definition of cloud computing will vary depending on the intelligent mind you ask. The cloud concept is, according to Clayton Christensen’s theory on Disruptive Innovation, a ‘Disruptive Strategy’ in that it replaces traditional data-centers and hosting providers by offering virtualized computing power and remote hosting capabilities in an easier and cost-effective manner. Essentially, what the cloud does is allow for seamless and instant increases or decreases in scalability, whether its CPU power or storage space. Businesses can request more CPU power from the virtual servers which provide the cloud environment while utilizing the attractive pay-as-you-use pricing model. Cloud service providers, like Amazon’s Web Services, do not offer just storage capacity or CPU power, but also offer enterprise-like applications to reduce businesses’ large initial investment in IT. So as your business is growing and your cloud application needs more bandwidth, you can simply go online and purchase more virtual CPU power at the click of a button. But, cloud service providers’ customers do not know whether their server capacity or CPU capability is being shared with other clients. In fact, the CPU that just provided the computing power for an enterprise’s application could have been the same CPU that provided computing power for a competitors application one day prior.
Why Not Cloud Computing?
There are many main drivers for investing in cloud computing: elimination of initial resources to create  IT architectures or data centers, headcount reduction and a reduction of equipment to provide maintenance or upgrades to servers or data centers, and especially since Amazon Web Services just recently slashed prices for database transactions, low cost for scalable computing power only incurring charges as it is used. However, businesses need to see the other side of the coin.
Recently, the public has been made aware a government program called PRISM. PRISM is an electronic surveillance program led by the National Security Agency. This program is suspected of obtaining intelligence for NSA reports and essentially provides data about U.S. citizens to the U.S. government. PRISM was first publicly leaked, in the form of a PowerPoint, on June 6th, 2013 and included information about several technology companies which are participants in the program. The companies mentioned as participants in PRISM include Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Facebook, Paltalk, YouTube, AOL, Skype, and Apple. In addition, it has been made aware by the leaks that the NSA has been spying on millions of Verizon customers in the United States by collecting telephone ‘metadata’ from all Verizon subscribers for a period of three months; the NSA received court approval to collect this data. If you are a Verizon customer and have made a call in the last few months, chances are that the government knows that you placed that call, too. However, PRISM is not limited to just call data, but also collects e-mails, videos, photos, VoIP data, and much more.
Now, you may be asking what does this have to do with cloud computing? The answer is nothing directly. Except that it was just verified to the general population that the government has been collecting (others call it spying) communication data in all sizes, shapes, and forms. Cloud Computing is adversely affected by these news events because cloud computing’s selling point has been the free flow of information.  Those thinking of moving to the cloud (businesses or individuals) are thinking twice about the move since the NSA is suspected of tapping into these goldmines of collected data and is paying attention to the large tech giants. If a large enterprise considers investing in the cloud, they need be aware that their information will most likely not remain completely private forever. The recent woes of the NSA leaks combined with the pre-existing cloud computing concerns are a powerful deterrent to investing in the cloud.  The questions about the cloud’s data privacy and security on its shared infrastructure, the notion that after a business invests in cloud computing they have no immediate hosting or data center alternatives to fall back on, and the fact that it can become costly if business transactions grow exponentially, thus reducing profitability of the business, have turned a once-attractive technology into a potential security and lawsuit nightmare. The leaked NSA news and the pre-existing concerns of cloud computing are major hits to the U.S. technology marketplace’s reputation and the future is certainly starting to look a lot less cloudy.
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Nicholas Mortimer

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  1. Privacy and data security have always been a deterrent to moving to the public cloud, and the NSA leaks added another potential hacker into the list of usual suspects (if they weren’t there already). However, privacy concerns are not the driving factor for every organization moving to the cloud - in some cases, the bottom line cost pros outweigh the privacy concern cons. If they don’t, there is always the option of a local private cloud or a hybrid cloud.