According to IT experts, cloud computing presents a new paradigm of conducting technological operations. Furthermore, based on the existing cloud solutions, the concept itself is not a new technology but a different computing structure/model that delivers resources using online systems i.e. the internet (Bhopale 2013). In addition to this definition, cloud computing utilises the concept of outsourcing resources where an organization’s needs are provided by another. Now, most organizations irrespective of their field or category seek cloud solutions because of the data problem they face i.e. big data. Big data, on the other hand, is a consequence of the availability of information seen today as caused by the digital environment. Therefore, to handle the data produced by clients, employees and the world at large, organization lease resources such as storage, applications and Softwares (Sabiri & Benabbou 2015).
To understand the opportunities, challenges and risks associated with the technology, it’s important to understand its operational structure. Cloud computing can be categorised into three major groups based on the services it offers; infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). Now, IaaS offers computational resources such as storage and networking equipment as a service. SaaS, on the other hand, will offer software or application resources as services e.g. email facilities through browsers. Finally, PaaS will provide software developing platforms. The diagram below highlights these functions and their relation (Sahandi, Alkhalili & Opara-Martins 2013). At the top, are the subscriber who leases the resources and below them the CSP who offer service based on the highlighted layers. The logical structure given represent the exact layout of the functionalities and how they relate to one another.
Opportunities, challenges and risk of cloud migration
A migration to cloud based resources will involve the models highlighted above, moreover, it will involve either entirely on a service provider or a combination of a service provider and the organization itself. This outcome yields the public, private and hybrid cloud systems.
According to studies conducted on SMEs (Small to Medium sized businesses), organizations are will engage in cloud computing due to the conveniences they offer, such as cost efficiencies, flexibility and scalability of IT resource (Sahandi, Alkhalili & Opara-Martins 2013). However, other benefits beyond these main conveniences exist as highlighted below:
- Technical opportunities
Big data storage, management and transmission – due to the velocity, volume and variety of data today, traditional storage facilities such as hard disks are inappropriate as they easily fail. However, cloud computing facilities offer unlimited storage that is based on the needs of the user (Yang, Huang, Li & Hu 2016). Furthermore, since most big data systems are based on different paradigms it is easier to lease the facilitating technology e.g. Hadoop and NoSQL among others. Moreover, it’s easier to handle the challenges of metadata as they are a regular occurrence with large volumes of information. Finally, the transmission is readily available based on the IP (Internet Protocol) systems of the internet.
- Business opportunities
Cost saving is the first and most obvious benefits owing to monetary resources that are saved as a result of leasing IT resources when they are needed. In most cases, resources such as storage will go unused while being paid for, which increases expenses for no good reason. However, with cloud computing, an organization will lease a server and tools such as Hadoop and NoSQL when needed. Furthermore, the cost is based on a pay-as-per-use model which means an organization can release a resource when it’s not needed (Wlodarz 2013). Consider the figure below highlighting this difference over a span of 8 years.
Secondly, consider the flexibility and scalability introduced when leased resources are used. An organization can acquire storage and other IT resources when needed, moreover, it can either increase or decrease its requirement at minimal costs. Furthermore, the same resources can be accessed from any location or anytime so long as the users have an internet connection. This outcome enhances the mobile deployment of services which increase the delivery time. Finally, it’s easier to backup resources as the service provider will have several host centres of an organization resources. Therefore, in the case of disasters, the data (including business analytics and projections) will be conserved with ease (Kelkar 2015).
Challenges of cloud computing
Although cloud computing is highlighted as a technological transformation and not a new technology, it does present new operating principles which introduces several challenges to the users, more so during its deployment. The challenges are mostly technically inclined which may affect the overall goals of cloud based solutions.
- Hosting services
To start with, the service provider will offer subscribers the facilities they require from storage to software packages. However, very few subscribers will assess or even explore the back end resources used by the service providers (CSP). Some of these back-end resources will lack the necessary requirements needed to protect the data of the users. In this case, the challenge is not the consequences of the back-end resources but the inability of the subscriber to evaluate the resources he/she leases (Paul & Ghose 2012). Furthermore, in most circumstances, the subscriber will have minimal access to the said resources and in fact, will lack an accurate record of where their information is stored. In addition to this, consider the cases where CSP outsources other services to subsequent CSP. For instance, the analytic servers of NoSQL server are outsourced while the primary provider host the data. In such an event SLAs are useless and the client cannot guarantee his data i.e. big data
- Technical hitches
In the event of a new technology or even a conventional technology, the supporting structures are always subject to failure. Therefore, the CSP may develop a glitch in his structures, be it the server or the network which disconnects the subscribing organization from accessing its leased resources. Moreover, the internet connection used by the subscriber may fail in itself which again will cause the organization to lose its resources for a period of time. In most cases, such outcomes necessitate hybrid cloud infrastructures that are quite expensive in order to mitigate failures. Finally, consider the compatibility of the resources used by CSP and the subscriber. As a result of the compatibility issue, vendor lock is created as the subscribers must lease resources from CSP offering facilities at the same standards as the resources used. In the end, this affects the flexibility of the leasing organization (Ahmed & Hossain 2014).
Risks associated with cloud computing
Unlike the challenges highlighted above, the risks of cloud computing stem from the unknown outcomes that may occur. Remember, the challenges may be easier to mitigate as they are well known and documented, however, the risks may be known but will continuously evolve.
- Security of the clouding facilities
To a cryptographic expert, the internet is a beehive of security issues as it’s populated with many unknown users whose intentions are also unknown. Therefore, when an organization surrenders its data, particularly, that used in business intelligence and data mining the organization places its trust on the security of the online structures. These structures will start from the access devices owned by the users to the back-end facilities that support the cloud resources. A fault in these structures will expose the entire system including the accuracy of data analytics (Al-Shqeerat, Al-Shrouf, Hassan & Fajraoui 2017).
- Online systems are prone to attack and copy
As stated above, all resources hosted on the internet, the ultimate cloud, are highly susceptible to attacks. These attacks are further intensified by the fact that multiple parties and structures are involved. For one, the CSP may also have his own CSP in order to facilitate the services offered. In addition to this, the subscribing organization can lease services based on its need, for instance, data analytics and processing could be done by different parties while the storage is done by others. In the end, the risks are escalated to multiple levels which make it easier to copy and replicate sensitive data (Hashizume, Rosado, Medina & Fernandez 2013).
- Data security and privacy
Unlike traditional models of computing, cloud based resources are completely virtualized which means they are hosted on virtual data centres. Therefore, while on-premise equipment may be expensive, they will guarantee the first line of defence where data location is known. In comparison, the data stored in the virtualized servers are prone to attacks since the physical guard is nonexistent. In fact, the security of the data will depend on a third party member (CSP) who may lack the necessary security protocols to completely safeguard the data. Finally, consider the parties involved, the data is forced to transverse different online members which expose an organization’s intellectual property to prying eyes. This outcome places serious risks on the organization as some of them may host confidential data owned by individuals such as social security numbers and home addresses (Sun, Zhang & Xiong 2014). In the end, the data hosted in cloud systems may expose the users to many security and privacy problems, some of which extend to the physical world.
Before outlining the recommendations, consider the figure below as provided by Right Scale (2017) (a research organization). From the diagram it’s easy to see that most of the challenges and risks highlighted above are continuously decreasing with time.
Nevertheless, despite the figures shown above the users still face the challenges and risks identified above. Therefore, as a subscriber the following recommendations are given to facilitate cloud migration of big data:
- Assess and evaluate the service providers (CSP)– Regardless of the resource required, be it storage facilities or office automation, an organization should evaluate and compare different CSPs in order to find the best fit. The best fit will be determined by their SLA, compatibility of standards and cost among many other factors.
- Implement deployment procedures– a cloud migration is a serious and heavy task that will involve millions of records. Therefore, an intricate procedure must be used to migrate the resources owned more so, in a big data environment. These procedures will also spell out the recovery steps in case technical glitches are experienced.
- Encryption– this recommendation represents all security protocols needed for online services. This includes authentication and authorization through access control procedures such as firewalls and intrusion systems. Moreover, the data transferred must be encrypted at both ends (Grispos, Storer & Glisson 2012).
- Finally, the subscriber must only engage with a service provider whose operational values are fit with those of their own, this includes the stipulations given by the SLAs. This final act will protect and safeguard the organization against the risks and challenges posed by cloud computing (Sapanny, KV, Nagaraj, Soumya & Sheetal 2015).
Cloud computing presents a new operational paradigm for IT resources where services are immediately provided based on the needs of users. These needs will always vary from users to users which outline the importance of this new technological development. Furthermore, through cloud computing the users i.e., organizations have increased control over their resources as they can be centrally controlled. However, at the same time, the subscribing organizations must be wary of the challenges and risks involved. They must employ proper security measures among many other countermeasures as highlighted in the previous section. It is through these measures and applications that cloud computing as a technological evolution will grow beyond the existing systems. In fact, it is through cloud computing that the world will be able to experience the total digital revolution based on virtualized systems, a long thought vision of information technology.
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