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Cloud computing is reshaping the computing and Internet landscape. With breakthroughs made in relevant service and business models, cloud computing will inevitably expand its role as a backbone for IT services.

  • Dr. Fang Binxing, President of Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications Guardian Professional
Cloud computing graphic scheme drawn with a chalk on a black board.

Cloud computing is reshaping the computing and Internet landscape. With breakthroughs made in relevant service and business models, cloud computing will inevitably expand its role as a backbone for IT services. As a revolutionary concept, its technological realization is set to change the way people work and live.

Key elements of cloud computing

Cloud computing involves three key elements, namely, resource pooling, capability supply, and the service model. As a process, the cloud provider concentrates a mass of resources and seamlessly provides them for users. These three elements are described below:

Resource pooling

Various kinds of resources are converged to form a cloud. Though a revolutionary concept, this already exists in practice in various forms. Search engines construct a "search cloud" by prearranging and converging all available information on the Internet so that the user can quickly get the search result. The highly popular taobao.com centralizes and converges online stores to form a "cloud" market much in the same way that a traditional shopping mall converges physical stores. Moreover, if we converge video data collected from myriad video cameras installed on city streets to provide VOD, we can establish a "cloud view".

Capability supply

What does a cloud bring us? To be called a cloud, it must supply computing and processing capabilities and share resources. In the early 1990s, we researched computing capability supply with a focus on presenting storage space and databases and interfaces for delivering their storage and search functions. Converged resources and computing capabilities are useless without a supply channel in the same way that taobao.com would be useless without a shopping platform to enable transactions.

Service model

The "as a service" (aaS) model is gaining popularity in the computing world. It is about services, not technologies, for users usually care about the services they are getting, not the technologies or resources involved. For example, we initially bought full-priced software and prepared necessary resources for it, no matter whether we would use it or not. Later, we shared software on the Internet at a lower cost without needing to prepare resources on the client though a fixed cost was still incurred for the usage over a certain period of time. With cloud computing, we can directly use the software function (the service) provided by the cloud even without knowing the software, on a pay-per-use basis without an awareness of the software involved.

Many similar applications exist to convert available capabilities and resources into the services required by users. Users care about software functions but not where the software is installed, which has spawned "Software as a Service" (SaaS). Equally, users are interested in storage space size, but not storage mechanics. This has given us "Software testing as a Service" (StaaS). Users want their requests to be satisfied, but are not concerned with the process, creating "Platform as a Service" (PaaS). Finally, users are concerned with the availability of computing systems, not the infrastructure through which they are implemented. This has brought about "Infrastructure as a Service" (IaaS).

Cloud computing security

Cloud computing changes personal and enterprise computing models in a way that makes information security as relevant as it is for online banking services. Though cloud computing has been applied to network security, it remains to be seen whether its architecture is an information trap that is ripe for misuse or exploitation. To provide secure services, cloud computing must address this issue at the following three levels:

How does cloud security work?

In the current networking environment, client-based Trojan checks are increasingly discredited as a solution. To check malicious codes, security vendors need a cloud computing platform where an inbuilt cloud security system pre-scans web pages and immediately informs the user of a page's safety. The advantage of cloud security is its ability to scan all web pages using large-scale computing capabilities. For end users, the web is only one danger source; others include emails and USBs, though the cloud security system does not apply to users who do not wish to publish their personal information.

However, the cloud security system has a fatal weakness–its over-reliance on transmission channels. User information and resources are handed over to the cloud for processing and transmission and security depends on the internal transmission channels. In order for cloud computing to unleash its potential, cloud service providers must work with broadband service providers to build a broadband transmission system appropriate for cloud services. A recommended solution involves the integration of the cloud security system into telecom networks so that the former scans web pages and the latter sends risk alerts.

Is the cloud itself safe?

The cloud must be open to provide service. Openness usually leads to vulnerability, though. So it is a problem how to protect the cloud against attacks and ensure that the cloud provides services continuously. The recent system crash at Amazon web services, the cloud service provider, caused Twitter and other prominent websites to fail. If this type of crash causes loss of user data, users will doubt the security of cloud computing. Solutions may include backups and additional monitoring, both of which should provide vital areas for future research.

How does the cloud ensure user security?

In the cloud, the security level of user routines is not analyzed, nor is data copied, in order to protect business secrets and personal data of users. Cloud services can be widely used only when they are reliable. However, unlike investigating a retailer before buying products from it, cloud service users cannot check the reliability of a cloud because they do not know which part of the cloud is serving them. If users transmit encrypted data, the user routines will be inefficient.

The openness of a cloud may render it a malicious tool. Currently, harmful Internet activities require the control of the terminal. For example, phishing requires fake sites that look and feel almost identical to legitimate ones, and Trojans require network controllers. The cloud model opens up new possibilities for criminal and malicious behavior.

Economics of cloud computing

The rationale behind the cloud model and the idea behind resource provision is flexibility. For example, a user requires 10,000 computers as nodes to work at a full load for a couple of months but for the rest of the year requires only 5% to 20% of these nodes. Such a user can apply for 200 to 1,000 nodes for normal operation and 10,000 nodes in the peak period.

To ensure security, some existing cloud systems provide exclusive private resources for users at certain costs that basically equal those required to own these resources. This solution obviously goes against the economics of cloud computing, making it unnecessary for users to apply for resources in the cloud. It remains a subject of debate and research whether this is in fact a cloud model.

Content on this page is produced and controlled by Huawei.

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