In the world of information technology, it seems that every few years a new concept comes along that emerges as being the next great leap in technology. One of the current concepts that fits that description in the IT world is called cloud computing. However, before a company decides that it will embrace cloud computing, it needs to make sure that it understands all the implications of this new offering. As with most technologies, there are many benefits that can be gained, but along with understanding the benefits, the business risks must also be evaluated. When making this evaluation, it is important to keep in mind not only the short term needs, but the long term objectives and goals of the organization. In recent years, the Obama administration has pushed for all federal agencies to investigate cloud computing to see if it will benefit each agency. “The Federal CIO Council under the guidance of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO), Vivek Kundra, established the Cloud Computing Initiative to fulfill the President’s objectives for cloud computing.”5 With the recent push from the current administration, cloud computing is expected to grow by leaps and bounds over the next few years. In some studies, there are predictions that “cloud services will reach $44.2 billion in 2013, up from $17.4 billion of today, according to research firm IDC.”4 This paper will lay out the considerations that an organization should consider at before making a decision to use or dismiss cloud computing at the present time.
Overview of Cloud Computing:
“Cloud Computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network-based access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interactions.”2 This definition is one of many that have been introduced within the IT industry, but what does this actually mean? The concept of a cloud can be looked at as a “leasing-versus-owning concept – an operational expense versus a capital one.”4
To understand the cloud computing concept more clearly, let us compare it to a more common concept: paying for electric utility. Each month, a household or business utilizes a certain amount of electricity which is monitored by a company and the consumer is billed based on their usage. If each household had their own power source, that would be congruent with non-cloud computing; there is no central power source that households take advantage of. If, as is the standard case, households buy their power from a consolidated power source (e.g. a power plant), that would be like taking advantage of a cloud; many users sharing a resource to fulfill their independent needs. Using this simple example, the cloud would be similar to the power plant, providing either infrastructure or software to customers on pay-per-use basis.
Some experts may disagree, but in many regards, cloud computing is similar to the way that computers were used when they first entered the market. At the advent of computers, computers (and associated facilities) were extraordinarily expensive and only owned by a few select organizations uses of cloud computing such as universities or the government. Few had the expertise to support a separate computing facility in house. Therefore, companies would lease time on computing resources provided by a small number of providers, only purchasing what they needed for what they were working on. In a similar model, cloud computing introduces the concept of buying resources as needed, and similar to the past, the resources can be accessed from a remote location. Key differences include quality of service, and variety of services offered by cloud computing vendors.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) serves as a guide towards helping government agencies achieve cloud. NIST’s cloud model “promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.”2 As this paper continues, each of these components will be addressed.
Prior to being able to evaluate if cloud computing is a good fit for a given organization, the general concepts of cloud computing must be understood. There are a number of different deployment models as well as applications of clouds that make up a cloud environment. The cloud deployment models include: public cloud, community cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud. There are strengths and weaknesses to each deployment model as it relates to the specific case that a cloud is being considered for use with. The following provides a summary understanding of each deployment model so that one can be chosen to move forward with consideration of cloud implementation.
“Made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organization selling cloud services”2
A public cloud is owned by a third party vendor that sells, or offers free of service, a cloud that can be used by the general public. A public cloud is the quickest to setup within an organization, but it also has a limited amount of transparency and limits the amount of customization.
“Shared by several organization and supports specific community that has shared concerns” 2
A community cloud is an architecture that is established when a group of organizations come together to share resources. A community cloud is a mini public cloud, but only a select group of organizations will be authorized to use the cloud. In contrast to the public cloud, it will generally be more expensive since it will only be used within a smaller group of organizations and all of the infrastructure must be established. A community cloud is a great choice for a group of organizations, such as a group of federal agencies that desire to share resources but want to have more control over security and insight into the cloud itself.