Applications and uses of cloud computing

Cloud computing

Cloud computing or cloud IT comprises applications, data, storage space and computing power from a virtual data center, which is also called the cloud. The term cloud is used because the virtual data center consists of interconnected computers (grid) and the resource is not provided by any specific computer. The resource is somewhere in that cloud of many computers. An application is no longer permanently assigned to a server. The resources are dynamic and can be called up as required.

Most of the offers and services offered under the term "cloud computing" are not necessarily new. The word cloud has only been around since 2009, before that there were various product names for it. Amazon was the pioneer, but was not taken seriously. The subject of cloud computing has now become normal in the IT sector. The cloud is particularly prevalent where a high degree of flexibility and scalability is required. The cloud is not only changing IT, but also the providers' business models. In particular, companies from the IT industry that have previously offered software, hardware and services have to adapt to the new cloud offerings.

The future of IT lies in the cloud. The advantages are many. But there are also some reasons that speak against it. Data protection in particular is an important issue.

Definition of cloud computing

There are as many solutions as there are so many definitions of cloud computing. A generally applicable definition of cloud computing has not yet established itself. Nevertheless, in summary, one can say that cloud computing provides a virtual and scalable IT infrastructure. Cloud computing can include storage, computing time or complex services that can be requested via defined interfaces. It doesn't matter which hardware they are running on.

How does cloud computing work?

With cloud computing, the place of provision of storage, computing power and applications is shifting from a single server to multiple virtual servers organized in large server farms.
With cloud computing, IT becomes a commodity like water or electricity. The development that IT is going through can be compared with the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. First industrial companies produced their own electricity and then switched to a utility model that delivered electricity directly to the house. Then as now, this requires an infrastructure that is actually available today with the Internet and broadband connections.
Cloud computing is based on technologies that are fully developed and tried and tested in practice. This includes virtualization, grid computing and provisioning software. A high available bandwidth, which makes access to the "cloud" possible, is just as important.
What is really new about cloud computing is the billing model, in which the user only has to pay for what he actually needs.

Overview: cloud service models

Service leveldescriptiontarget group
Software as a Service (SaaS)The application is installed on the provider's server, preconfigured and is usually operated via a browser. The data that is created and edited is also stored there.
SaaS are mostly services to make the hardware more interesting.

Consumer cloud services such as Google Docs, Apple iCloud, Strato HiDrive or Windows Live Services are typical for Software as a Service.
Enterprise users
Function as a Service (FaaS)The provider provides individual functions that are used by users as required. In the serverless environment, the provider takes care of the operation of all resources necessary to provide and ensure the availability of the services and functions.Users and developers
Platform as a Service (PaaS)In principle, this is an operating system, a technical framework or a development environment on which simple applications can be developed and operated.developer
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)IaaS offers access to virtualized computer resources, for example server environments, computing power or hard disk space, which can be expanded as required. What is paid for is what you use or consume.
IaaS is the cloud service model on which all other cloud service models are based. IaaS is the model where money can be made on a large scale.
IT departments
IT service provider
Cloud services

Cloud management platform

A cloud management platform manages CPUs, memory, hard drives and virtual machines. The hardware is controlled by a higher-level platform and ensures that all of the hardware resources can be scaled better. Roughly speaking, the management platform consists of a scheduler, storage, image service and an interface from which everything is operated.

Depending on the workload of the computer, the scheduler decides on which computer a virtual machine is started. The image service is responsible for assigning the images to the virtual machines. It takes care of the storage and delivery of the images. The storage component is used for the distributed and redundant storage of all types of data. The data is stored in containers and objects. Containers are a kind of directory that contain objects. Objects can be individual files or disk images of virtual machines.

Why cloud computing?

  • If you use the cloud of a service provider, you always have the option of using the latest technologies.
  • Provided that the demands on performance and flexibility are not too high, there is an opportunity to reduce costs.
  • Overall, flexibility increases when more features are available.
  • Outsourcing, especially in the IT area, is often used to shift responsibility. For example to a service provider who has to be responsible for the availability of his services.
  • When it comes to cooperation between employees, customers, suppliers and partners, applications from the cloud are usually more suitable than when you have to create access for strangers to your own network.
  • Mobile access to company data and applications for employees who are on the move can be made easier using cloud applications.

Advantages and benefits of cloud computing

Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cannot afford to operate their own IT infrastructure and always keep it up to date.

  • fast turnaround time
  • central data storage
  • usage-dependent billing models
  • scalable and flexibly adaptable

By dispensing with long-term contracts, consumption-based billing based on CPU hours or storage volume would be conceivable.
It is conceivable that in the future companies will dynamically expand their own IT infrastructure with additional resources from the "cloud", shorten the introduction time of new applications and adapt the environments to the respective requirements.

Disadvantages of cloud computing

The availability of data and services is a major sticking point. If the data is outside of your own network, you have little influence on the remote system. You are dependent on the respective provider here. Usually that's not a problem if you rely on the big players. Failures are limited here.
Data protection is the second sticking point. Here you have to trust the provider. However, you can get legal problems in Germany if sensitive data is on servers abroad or if the data processing takes place abroad.

The responsibility for personal customer data cannot be outsourced to the cloud service provider. The company remains responsible for their protection under data protection law, regardless of where the data is stored. This is determined by the so-called order data processing (ADV) according to Section 11 of the Federal Data Protection Act (BDSG). So you cannot delegate this responsibility to the provider.

Private cloud

Software and hardware are increasingly available with private cloud functionalities. Most of the time it is about synchronizing data on different devices with one another or making them available. The cloud is the central data storage. The devices or clients map the database locally and enable access to it. Many applications and services can be used more conveniently thanks to the private cloud offerings.

  • Google Drive (Google)
  • Azure (Microsoft)
  • iCloud (Apple)
  • AWS (Amazon)

In the business sector, the business processes are usually more complex, which is why the private cloud offerings can usually only be used to a limited extent. At most for the synchronization of contacts, appointments and some documents. But here the question arises as to whether this private cloud is also unsuitable for data protection reasons.

Edge and Fog Computing

Edge and fog computing are terms from product marketing for a system architecture that is a countermovement to the usual centralized cloud architectures. Edge and fog computing bring the processing of data and the control of distributed systems from the cloud back to the devices. The data processing takes place decentrally at the edge of the network, which is why one speaks of edge computing.

How secure is cloud computing?

In view of the publications in the context of the NSA secret service activities, every responsible person can only come to the one conclusion that cloud computing cannot be recommended with a clear conscience. However, it depends on which data is stored in the cloud and which data is transferred by cloud applications.

Basically, you should only put data in the cloud that are harmless and uncritical from the point of view of data protection and data security. The following procedure is then advisable: Data that is saved from the local computer to the cloud and downloaded again from there must be transmitted and saved in encrypted form. If not, every station on the way between the local computer and the cloud can access the data.
Even if the data is in a German data center, the risk of the data being routed to other countries and accessed there.

Most of the time, cloud services are offered with encryption. For both transmission and storage. However, encryption implemented by the provider is not to be considered effective because the private key is owned by the provider. In case of doubt, he has to hand it over to the secret services and authorities.
In principle, German and European cloud providers have advantages over their US competitors. They are not subject to the Patriot Act unless they primarily operate in the United States.

If you use the cloud as data storage and file storage, you should encrypt and decrypt your files and also transmit them in encrypted form.
The user must take care of the encryption himself and must not rely on the cloud provider. Otherwise he cannot assume the security of the data.

But it's much more than just deciding where the cloud is located. Cloud providers are often external service providers who offer applications in which the storage function is linked to the application. However, the user has no other way of accessing his data.
To make matters worse, many cloud services are designed to be intransparent. There are of course reasons. The customer should have to deal with technical details as little as possible. A cloud service is often no longer sold to an IT department, but directly to a company's specialist departments. And that is exactly where the problem lies. It is difficult to assess whether the techniques used can be controlled at all.

10 points for a secure cloud (source: iX 12/2013)

  1. Where is the data center location located?
  2. In which countries is the operator or its subsidiaries and parent companies active?
  3. Where are the main company headquarters and place of jurisdiction?
  4. Does a locally based, German-speaking service exist?
  5. How are customers informed about access by authorities?
  6. With which third party providers and under which contracts do you cooperate?
  7. How are third-party violations notified?
  8. What software and hardware does the provider use?
  9. Are all contracts and service level agreements (SLA) concluded according to German law?
  10. How high is the contractual penalty for breach of contract?

Examples of cloud computing applications

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Everything you need to know about computer technology.

Computer technology primer

The computer technology primer is a book about the basics of computer technology, processor technology, semiconductor memory, interfaces, data storage devices, drives and important hardware components.

I want that!