The Rise of the Clouds: Progress and Prospects

Guest Editors' Introduction • San Murugesan and Irena Bojanova • August 2014

International readers, read this article
in Spanish and in Chinese
Translated by Osvaldo Perez and Tiejun Huang
cloud in sky in full color

Several converging and complementary factors are driving the further ascension of the cloud (cloud computing). The increasing maturity of cloud technologies and offerings coupled with users' greater awareness of the cloud's potential benefits (as well as limitations) is accelerating the cloud's adoption. Better Internet connectivity, intense competition among cloud service providers (CSPs), and digitalization of enterprises — particularly micro-, small-, and medium-sized — are increasing the cloud's usage. The changing attitude and mindset toward the cloud among users now accustomed to the growing ubiquity of mobile devices and applications is also greatly improving the cloud's adoption. Cloud technologies offer appealing responses to the growing demand from emerging markets for computing services at affordable cost, and governmental support and initiatives are propelling the clouds, as well.

Cloud computing isn't just an IT paradigm change, as some perceive. It's redefining not only the information and communication technology industry but also enterprise IT in all industry and business sectors. It's also helping to close the digital (information) divide, as well as driving innovations by small enterprises and facilitating deployment of new applications that would otherwise be infeasible.

The Cloud is Poised to Rise Further

Cloud computing's appeal is driven by several distinct features, including:

  • pay-as-you-go access to a variety of IT service offerings,
  • on-demand access to resources at low cost,
  • resource elasticity to meet varying demand, and
  • colocation of computation and data that enables large-scale data analytics.

It can efficiently and effectively source huge computing resources to a large number of users.

Yet, despite cloud computing's appeal and growing usage, several concerns and limitations have kept it from mass market adoption. Understanding and addressing these limitations and vulnerabilities as appropriate is key to successfully embracing cloud's potential. Cloud promoters are offering new cloud services and pursuing standardization efforts to address cloud migration and adoption constraints.

In this month's Computing Now theme, we examine some key challenges in harnessing the cloud and how to address them and highlight emerging services and applications. We explore cloud adoption best practices and how the cloud is changing enterprise IT's role, and we conclude with a look at the cloud's prospects.

Cloud Considerations and Challenges

Embracing the cloud isn't just about using or deploying applications and storing data. To realize the cloud's promise, users must address not only functional requirements and technical feasibility but also several important nonfunctional aspects. It requires a holistic approach that considers both technical and nontechnical issues.

Security

As several recent surveys reconfirm, users' concerns about security and privacy of data and applications remain a barrier to cloud adoption. Several technological options are available for securing data and application on the cloud, but many cloud users fail to give adequate upfront thought to securing the systems. This is an issue that not only CSPs but all stakeholders must tackle through multipronged efforts and further research and development.

Migration and Integration

The nontrivial act of migrating an existing (legacy) application to the cloud requires thoughtful and careful handling, tailoring the application and interfaces as required. Currently, aggregating and integrating cloud offerings is difficult, particularly from different providers. Yet, several efforts are under way to address this problem, including the development of cloud standards and open platforms, such as Open Virtualization Format (OVF), Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI), IEEE P2301 Cloud Portability & Interoperability (CPIP) standard, and IEEE CSP2302 Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation (SIIF).

Network Access

Ensuring appropriate high-bandwidth network connectivity is crucial to successfully using the cloud. However, many users as well as internet service providers neglect to enhance their network infrastructure and capacity to handle increased traffic — both from and to the cloud.

Cloud Strategy

To realize the benefits of clouds, an enterprise must develop a comprehensive cloud strategy that also examines and addresses potential risks, including cloud unavailability and failures, as well as compliance requirements, as applicable. Relying on the cloud doesn't eliminate the need for risk management or disaster recovery.

Theme Articles

CN's August 2014 issue presents seven articles that explore new opportunities in cloud computing and what the community must do to realize them.

In "Key Challenges in Cloud Computing: Enabling the Future Internet of Services," Rafael Moreno-Vozmediano, Ruben Montero, and Ignacio Llorente analyze the issues the cloud community and researchers must address to overcome adoption barriers and turn the cloud vision into reality. The challenges they identify include efficient cloud management, cloud-aggregation architectures and technologies that enable cloud providers to collaborate and interoperate, and cloud infrastructure security, reliability, and energy efficiency.

Security issues require a comprehensive solution to ensure successful application deployment on the cloud. On that front, we begin with Edward G. Amoroso's "Practical Methods for Securing the Cloud," which offers broader insights into how cloud decision makers and adopters can best address security risks and threats by using several practical methods in combination. Next up, "Cloud Data Protection forthe Masses," by Dawn Song and her colleagues, outlines a vision for data-protection as a service (DPaaS), which comprises a suite of security primitives offered by a cloud platform. DPaaS would move the key management and access control to a middle tier — the computing platform — to balance rapid development and easy maintenance with user-side verifiability. By posing several practical questions that remain open, the authors provoke further thought and inspire future research and development in this area.

With its focus on how games are developed, deployed, and operated (as opposed to how they're played), gaming as a service (GaaS) is an emerging cloud service that's gaining interest in the game industry. This new architecture is moving more of the logic to the server and offering developers a new level of agility to deal with the vast array of complicated devices and address emerging competitive markets and business models. In "Toward Gaming as a Service," Wei Cai, Min Chen, and Victor C.M. Leung survey existing platforms that provide cloud gaming services, classify them into three architectural frameworks, and analyze their pros and cons. The authors also examine the features of different game genres and determine their impact on design for cloud gaming services. Finally, they describe a vision of GaaS provisioning for mobile devices and suggest research directions.

Deployment of gaming and other applications on mobile devices leveraging the cloud's promise calls for a reliable, high-bandwidth, end-to-end network. Yet, in many situations — such as geographical regions recovering from natural disasters or remote and developing regions with weak networking infrastructure — users and application developers can't assume reliable mobile connectivity to the cloud all the time. One promising mechanism for addressing this major limitation is cloudlets. Trusted, resource-rich computers that are connected to the Internet and available for use by nearby mobile devices, cloudlets act as surrogates or proxies for the real cloud. They serve as the middle in a three-tier hierarchy: mobile device, cloudlet, and cloud. Under failure conditions, a cloudlet masks the cloud's absence by performing its essential services. In "The Role of Cloudlets in Hostile Environments," Mahadev Satyanarayanan and his colleagues examine how mobile users can leverage the cloud in distinct ways and how VM-based cloudlets located in close proximity to associated mobile devices can provide reliable connectivity to the cloud.

A well-known use of the cloud is to deploy an enterprise application to exploit features such as scalability and flexibility to meeting uncertain demand and extreme usage variability. As a case study, "The BestBuy.com Cloud Architecture," examines how retailer Best Buy embraced the cloud to solve such problems with its e-commerce system. The company's IT personnel designed a new e-commerce platform to integrate cloud computing as part of the system so that, rather than simply operating on a cloud, the architecture exploits the inherent qualities of a cloud. Author Joel Crabb outlines the rationale for the company's cloud choice and hybrid cloud architectural decisions, as well as discusses the lessons learned from the project, which will be helpful for other cloud adopters.

Adoption of and migration to the cloud is nontrivial and presents new challenges to the enterprise IT team. In the final theme article, "The Future of Enterprise IT in the Cloud," Jamie Erbes, Hamid R. Motahari-Nezhad, and Sven Graupner discuss trends that are forcing changes in IT — cloud services, mobile consumer devices, and increased cross-enterprise collaboration. The authors emphasize that supporting IT's shifting role requires new mechanisms and frameworks that support services' end-to-end life cycle, from acquisition to integration, consumption, financial management, and termination. They conclude that an enterprise IT team can act as broker, integrator, or manager of a hybrid portfolio of services, retaining its central role in the enterprise.

Industry Perspectives

In the video segment, Dejan Milojicic (IEEE Computer Society President and senior researcher and managing director, HP Labs' Open Cirrus Cloud Computing Testbed), Sesh Murthy (VP, Cloud Innovation and Solutions at IBM Global Technology Services), and John Messina (Senior Member, Cloud Computing Project, NIST) offer their viewpoints and perspectives on cloud infrastructure, security, and standards, respectively.

Bright Prospects

Cloud computing's transformational potential is huge and impressive. Investors, corporations, and start-ups continue to eagerly invest in promising cloud computing technologies and services in both developed and developing economies. The cloud ecosystem has begun to evolve to provide an array of services that support the deployment of cloud-based solutions for applications across numerous domains. Further new cloud deployment types, models that deliver value-added services, and costing and business models are on the horizon.

Many new players are getting into the cloud arena, performing niche roles, and individuals and businesses are increasingly adopting cloud-based applications in both developed and developing economies. Governments in many countries are also promoting cloud adoption, particularly among micro, small, and medium enterprises. As a result, a new larger cloud ecosystem is poised to emerge.

As we've discussed, successfully and fully embracing the promise of clouds will require adopters to address a range of factors, including security, privacy, access management, and business continuity. Furthermore, they may have to use services from multiple service providers, aggregating and integrating them with the organization's legacy applications and systems, as well.

Thus, near-future developments should focus on standards for cloud security, data virtualization through advanced analytics and parallel-processing optimization, mobile applications, and platform as a service for specialized mobile platforms. Another key area for further development is interoperability among clouds, which would let users scale a service across disparate providers, while maintaining the appearance of a single system. Cloud federation — the interconnection of cloud services from different providers and networks — is another promising approach that would let providers wholesale or rent computing resources to other providers to balance workloads and handle spikes in demand.

Clouds in the Future

We welcome your comments and perspectives on this exciting topic. For example:

  • How will clouds emerge in the next 5 to 10 years?
  • How will clouds shape and transform the IT industry, business, and society as a whole?
  • What are your real-life experiences in embracing the cloud?
  • What are the real challenges facing cloud computing, CSPs, and users, and how should stakeholders and researchers work to address them?
  • How can CSPs, regulatory bodies, and researchers work together to raise the cloud to further heights?

Please share your insights, ideas, and experiences below.

Citation

S Murugesan and I Bojanova, "The Rise of the Clouds: Progress and Prospects," Computing Now, vol. 7, no. 8, August 2014, IEEE Computer Society [online]; http://www.computer.org/portal/web/computingnow/archive/august2014.

San Murugesan headshot

San Murugesan is editor in chief of IT Professional, the director of BRITE Professional Services, and an adjunct professor at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He is a corporate trainer, a consultant, a researcher, and an author. He is coeditor of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Cloud Computing (Wiley 2014), as well as Harnessing Green IT: Principles and Practices (Wiley 2012), Handbook of Research on Web 2.0, 3.0, and X.0: Technologies, Business, and Social Applications (IGI-Global 2009), and Web Engineering (Springer 2001). Murugesan is an editorial board member of Computer and edits its bimonthly column, "Cloud Cover." He is a fellow of the Australian Computer Society and the Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers (IETE), as well as a distinguished visitor of the IEEE Computer Society. Contact him via email san[at]computer[dot]org, @santweets, LinkedIn or his Web site.

Irena Bojanova headshot

Irena Bojanova is a professor and program director of Information and Technology Systems at University of Maryland, University College. She has a PhD in Computer Science from Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Bojanova is the founding chair of the IEEE CS Cloud Computing STC, a general chair of the IT Professional Conference, and editor of Encyclopedia of Cloud Computing (Wiley, to appear in 2014). She is also an associate editor in chief and the editor of the Trends Department in IT Professional, an associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Cloud Computing, and an associate editor of International Journal of Big Data Intelligence. Bojanova is a senior member of IEEE. You can read her cloud computing blog at www.computer.org/portal/web/Irena-Bojanova. Contact her at irena.bojanova@umuc.edu or LinkedIn.

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