It’s safe to say that cloud computing has changed the way we, as societies, operate. Not only have cloud computing technologies developed dramatically over a very short time, but they’ve had significant impacts on our methods of communication, networks, and media and information management. These, in turn, have further impacted on multiple scales, from traditional business models and social implications to large scale economic and political impacts. Industries such as the education sector have faced various challenges in the transition from physical to online and cloud computing (Al-Rousan & Abualese, 2015). This has had a direct impact on me and other students in the learning, teaching and research environments. While cloud computing has had large transformative effects, like everything, it also faces limitations and drawbacks, both on a personal and on a larger scale.
What is cloud computing?
In its simplest form, cloud computing is the ability to store, access, and process information and data on remote servers accessed via the internet (Ruparelia, 2016). This is often charged on a pay-as-you-go (operating expense) basis making it an attractive choice for many small and medium businesses to avoid the capital expense and obsolescence of purchasing in house IT equipment (Ranger, 2018).
- Cloud computing is comprised of public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds. Public clouds are servers owned and operated by third-party providers to administer service to a range of different customers simultaneously (Ruparelia, 2016; Microsoft Azure, 2020). This includes services that the average person would use such as iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox as well as enterprise platforms like AWS, and Azure.
- Private clouds are a collection of servers that are dedicated to a specific company or organisation and store data and information belonging specifically to that company or organisation (Ruparelia, 2016; Microsoft Azure, 2020). These servers may be deployed on-site or reside in third party data centres.
- Hybrid clouds are a combination of private and public clouds that typically distribute processing for various applications across both public and private servers securely. Hybrid clouds are beneficial for businesses looking for flexibility and optimisation of existing online infrastructures, particularly where unique security concerns drive infrastructure choices (Ruparelia, 2016; Microsoft Azure, 2020).
Cloud computing as a whole is particularly valuable for business and private use as users can essentially rent flexible, fractional access to IT infrastructure from a cloud provider rather than having to fund entire servers of their own (Arutyunov, 2012; Ranger, 2018).
Public, private and hybrid cloud integration. CRM Trilogix, (n.d.) All Rights Reserved. Source: https://crmtrilogix.com/Cloud-Blog/Cloud-Models/Cloud-Deployment-Models-and-Hybrid-Cloud-Computing/132
History of cloud computing
While the creation of cloud computing and internet-based storage services is only relatively new, the concept of “computing-as-a-service” (Arutyunov, 2012; Ranger, 2018) has been in the works for a much longer period of time. First described in the 1960’s – the ‘time-sharing’ era of IT – by John McCarthy, he predicted that “computation may someday be organised as a public utility” (Ranger, 2018; Mathew, 2012), meaning that in the same way, telephones have become both a public utility and a necessity, computers will become ubiquitous in the same way (Barabas, 2015). This then began the concept of cloud computing.
Computer bureaus in the 60s, 70s and 80s would allow companies and users to rent time on a shared, remote mainframe rather than purchasing and operating one themselves (Arutyunov, 2012; Ranger, 2018). As PC’s and later laptops began to emerge and the cost of computing power decreased by orders of magnitude, the need for shared or rented equipment was overtaken by alternative options, both cheaper and more accessible (Ranger, 2018).
The 1990s–2000s saw the recognition that interconnections and the network are the key to computer capability, driving grid computing, utility computing and more modern service providers (Arutyunov, 2012). This resurgence allowed diverse computing services and online communication networks to flourish (Ruparelia, 2016). With the emergence of software for public service, cloud computing providers began rising up to the mainstream – companies such as Google, Amazon Web Services, Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Azure.
Who benefits from cloud computing and who is it a disadvantage?
Cloud computing, with its various deployment models (private, public and hybrid), as well as more complex service models of computing (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, MSPs and serverless computing – all of which are beyond the scope of this essay), allow it to be extremely versatile and useful in a myriad of different industries. The effects of cloud computing can be seen benefitting virtually all significant industries, particularly including the education sector (Al-Rousan & Abualese, 2015).
Video: The use of Amazon Web Services for Government, Education and Nonprofits
In analysing cloud computing from a social perspective, while there has been an increase in networked communications, this cannot be attributed solely to cloud computing but rather the increase in technological capabilities that have become available in the same time as the rise in cloud infrastructures (Ruparelia, 2016).
On a small scale, cloud computing is most beneficial for small to medium-sized businesses, primarily because of the subscription-based payment and usage plans (Islam, Morshed & Goswami 2013). It eliminates the need for users to purchase large scale servers, hardware and software for on-site data centres, significantly reducing all-around costs (Islam et al., 2013). For small and medium businesses, projects such as marketing, logistics and infrastructure can all be managed online and remotely, with many businesses having the ability to work globally (Islam et al., 2013).
Global Trends in Average Customer Cloud Spend, (n.d.) Cloud Health. All Rights Reserved. Retrieved from: https://www.cloudhealthtech.com/blog/global-economic-impact-on-cloud-spend
This access to information has also allowed great progress in globalising economies and moving work to lowest-cost jurisdictions more flexibly. Information can be accessed worldwide from cloud infrastructures allowing data sharing, global connections and business networks (Ruparelia, 2016). Although cloud computing can be used for economic benefit and integrated economies, its widespread uptake has significantly increased the concentration of power in large businesses (Ruparelia, 2016; Frick, 2018).
Previously, computing was most often managed by small, localised companies which has now shifted to computing being managed by very few, very large service providers. This increases the power and scale of these companies, taking away economic opportunities for smaller businesses, giving these tech giants power in the political sphere, and making competition and market entry extremely difficult. As huge global companies with significant influence, these tech companies have the ability to participate in significant scale government lobbying (Frick, 2018). As the field of cloud computing and online infrastructures grows, there comes a time when businesses and individual users have no other choice than to participate. As we shift to a digital landscape, these technologies have shifted from adoption as a choice, to adoption as a necessity. As large players, tech giants have the power to influence law, regulation and governance over their industry (Yeomans, 2018; Frick, 2018).
Huge global companies and large, concentrated pools of valuable data also present a new security risk. As a target for nefarious actors, a huge potential privacy risk, and a massive data aggregation opportunity, the massive public cloud hosts and public offered cloud services (like Facebook) present challenges the industry and society are only recently coming to understand, let alone manage.
Video: The rise in big tech companies and government lobbying
How does cloud computing affect us?
In analysing the reasons why businesses and individuals choose to opt for cloud computing, outside of the security risks mentioned above, it’s difficult to see how it could work to someone’s detriment. According to Al-Rousan & Abualese (2015), cloud computing can present a multitude of difficulties for institutions such as education providers and universities. As one personally affected by the pros and cons of cloud computing within this sector, it’s important to critically analyse them against each other.
Working from a student perspective, internet speed and basic connectivity play an important role in access to cloud data and services (Al-Rousan & Abualese, 2015). Not only can this limit the quality of education received but it can significantly increase the time that must be spent managing IT issues rather than productive tasks. In the world of online education examined through the COVID-19 pandemic, one could informally argue that perhaps education accessibility has been limited and student participation has been affected by the shift to online and the management of technical issues and access to information stored within the cloud. Contrastingly, from a personal perspective, students can argue that the benefits of online information access through the cloud outweigh the time spent managing technical issues. A vast array of information can be stored in the cloud and glitches here and there may be a small price to pay for instant access to almost infinite libraries and resources online.
Video: The benefits of cloud computing in educational institutions
From the perspective of an individual using cloud computing to manage personal data such as photos, videos, documents and applications, the main detriment would be cost, though these costs have decreased significantly in every recent decade. The cost of online storage for individuals through providers such as iCloud, Google Drive and Dropbox, are generally minimal and manageable compared to the benefits, and most users see them as necessary to support the continued operation of cloud providers.
As a whole, cloud computing has had an extreme impact on the modern world. It is common enough to almost be considered a necessity. From individual pay-as-you-go models to higher business and social levels to even larger scale economic and political models, cloud computing is having a lasting effect. As it grows larger and filters through the various levels of society, it’s important to remain critical in analysing the effects of cloud computing amongst the world of new technologies. What challenges does the implementation of cloud computing present? Are there groups that are facing serious detriment with the rise of cloud infrastructures?
Microsoft Azure, (2020). What is cloud computing?. Retrieved from: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-au/overview/what-is-cloud-computing/
Ranger, S. (2018). What is cloud computing? Everything you need to know about the cloud explained. Retrieved from: https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-is-cloud-computing-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-cloud/
Mathew, S. (2012). Implementation of Cloud Computing in Education – A Revolution. International Journal of Computer Theory and Engineering, 4(3), 473-475. doi: 10.7763/IJCTE.2012.V4.511
Islam, M. M., Morshed, S. & Goswami, P. (2013) Cloud Computing: A Survey on its limitations and Potential Solutions. International Journal of Computer Science Issues. 10(4), 159-163
Al-Rousan, T. & Abualese, H. (2015). Impact of Cloud Computing on Educational Institutions: A Case Study. Recent Patents on Computer Science. 8(2). doi:10.2174/2213275908666150413215916.
Yeomans, E. (2018, October 23). Tech giants build army of lobbyists to fight off tougher regulations. Times, p. 4. Retrieved from: https://go-gale-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA559378518&v=2.1&u=usyd&it=r&p=STND&sw=w
Arutyunov, V. V. (2012). Cloud Computing: It’s History of Development, Modern State, and Future Considerations. Scientific and Technical Information Processing, 39(3), 173-178. doi:10.3103/S0147688212030082
Ruparelia, N. B. (2016). Cloud Computing. [JSTOR version]. Retrieved from: https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/stable/j.ctt1c2cqk4
Barabas, J. (2015, February 9). Cloud computing: Our next public utility?. Retrieved from: https://www.ibm.com/blogs/cloud-computing/2015/02/09/cloud-computing-next-public-utility/
Frick, W. (2018). The Conundrum of Corporate Power. Harvard Business Review, 154-155. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/05/the-conundrum-of-corporate-power
Public, private and hybrid cloud integration [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://crmtrilogix.com/Cloud-Blog/Cloud-Models/Cloud-Deployment-Models-and-Hybrid-Cloud-Computing/132
Global Trends in Average Customer Cloud Spend [Image] (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://www.cloudhealthtech.com/blog/global-economic-impact-on-cloud-spend