Cloud computing has been one of the most important internet innovations and has had tremendous impact on the world since its inception. The way we share and store data has never been the same, and while it may seem like a new phenomenon, with the release of the iCloud and other Cloud services, the concept of Cloud Computing actually has a long history.
By analysing the genesis and its place in the historical context, we are able to understand how Cloud Computing has grown in popularity and how it has transformed the way data is managed and transferred. Furthermore, due to the day to day reliance on Cloud Computing it is prudent to examine who owns and controls the services that everyone connected to the internet uses, and how much access to our data is given.
This notion segues into the final part of our analysis, who benefits from Cloud Computing’s transformative effects on political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life. Through this dissection of Cloud Computing we are able to gain insight not only into how it has shaped history but the benefits and potential risks that is associated with the innovation.
History of Cloud Computing
The concept of Cloud Computing has been around for decades, albeit not explicitly called the ‘Cloud’. The National Institutes of Standards and Technology define Cloud Computing as
a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network 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 interaction. (Daylami, 2015, p. 41)
Essentially, the Cloud is a global network of servers that are connected to create a single ecosystem so data can be shared quickly and easily. We can see the original concepts of the Cloud stemming back to the 1960s, when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was researching ways they could access data anywhere. The lead computer scientist was Joseph Licklider who stated that:
It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a ‘thinking center” … [which] enlarges itself into a network of such centers, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users… (Licklider, 1960, p. 7)
To historians this is one of the first mention of the concept of accessing data from anywhere, this idea of convenience, speed and accessibility falls in line with the trends in communications media at the time. The 20th Century was filled with major technological advances, and because of this, the desire for things to become easier and more efficient was exacerbated.
At its core Cloud computing is about convenience and allowing for greater accessibility, and thus why commercial services of the Cloud became so popular when they were introduced. Although the idea stems from the 1960s, due to unsophisticated computing systems it could not be shaped into a reality.
The actual origins of the term ‘Cloud Computing’ can be seen to be traced to George Favaloro and Sean O’Sullivan in an internal document when they worked for Compaq, but many attribute the introduction of the ‘Cloud’ into the common vernacular when Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke of it in a conference in 2006, (Daylami, 2015, p. 41). While governments and their armies had been using Cloud Computing well before 2006, Schmidt’s announcement of a commercial Cloud is when everyone started taking notice.
Bojanova, Zhang, & Voas (2013) highlight how the popularity and reliance on the Cloud appeared as part of the historical trend of:
rising IT costs, the constant need for capital investments, server sprawl, and ballooning energy costs and demands, (p. 13).
Thus, with these problems arising in the world of information management the Cloud was seen as the solution to them. In the new world of extreme budgeting and cutting costs wherever possible, governments around the world implemented Cloud infrastructure.
For example, in 2009, the Japanese government publicised the Kasumigaseki Cloud and the US introduced Cloud Computing Mall and in 2010, the UK government brought into effect the G-Cloud government Cloud infrastructure, (Bojanova, Zhang, & Voas, 2013). Furthermore, big corporations are also investing in integrating the Cloud into their infrastructure, Delhaize America, which controls all of Hannaford and Bottom Dollar grocery chains, and Pearson education are a few such businesses, (Guido, 2014). We can thus identify how Cloud computing started as a mere concept in the 1960s rode the trends of information management to become one of the most popular forms of data storage.
Who Owns the Cloud and the Data on it?
When looking at Cloud Computing services today one can shop around and find the best service for them, or, as most do, stick with a brand they know and trust. Google is one of the biggest names when it comes to commercial Cloud services, with Google having 10 exabytes of data storage (10 billion gigabytes), (Elkhatib, 2015).
Google has been the front runner for Cloud services, and have invested huge amounts of capital into the service, only last year putting forward plans to put $13 billion into their Cloud services, (Davis, 2019). They market their Cloud services security as state of the art and that using their service would be like storing your data on their own private network. Along with this, the brand loyalty that is associated with Google aids them tremendously. With this they stand by their 3 pillars Layered Infrastructure, Intelligent Monitoring and Controlling, and Privacy and Transparency, (Google, 2018).
Privacy and security are what all providers of Cloud services emphasise, but is this necessarily possible? While you own your data that you put onto the Cloud it does not mean it is private. This has been a huge issue for Cloud service providers with cases of the United States government forcing companies to provide data that has been stored on the Cloud. In particular, the Microsoft Corp v. United States case provides a great insight into how unsecure your data really is. Microsoft appealed the US government’s subpoena for data that was stored in Ireland, and while they won the appeal, the US made an amendment to the Stored Communications Act 1986 to allow for data to be obtained from any country pursuant a warrant, (Lillington, 2017). So if your data isn’t really secure, why use the Cloud and why has it taken the world be storm?
The Advantages and Costs of the Cloud; Who Benefits?
The technological innovation of the Cloud has brought many benefits but has also brought never before seen risks. One of the main benefits is that the Cloud lowers the overall IT expenditure by eliminating the need for outdated equipment and by improving speed and accessibility of information, (Garrison, Kim, & Wakefield, 2012) This has resulted in political, economic and social transformations, which seem to have benefited everyone.
By cutting costs to business it has freed up capital and allowed them to prosper, governments are now being run more efficiently and on the individual level it has made it cheaper and easier to have access to our data. This minimised cost can also be seen to have a negative transformation on our cultural norms as now those in the workforce are always expected to be connected to work and has harmed our work-life balance, (Britt, 2012).
Furthermore, we can also identify two more main benefactors to Cloud Computing, those being the Road Warriors and Collaborators, (Kalyankar & Mirashe, 2010). Kalyankar and Mirashe (2010) highlight how the Cloud has provided an easy and efficient way for business professionals and the laymen to collaborate on projects from anywhere in the world in real-time, a perfect example being Google Docs. On top of this they have identified a major beneficiaries of the Cloud being those that travel a lot and need to take work, be it academic or business, with them, (Kalyankar & Mirashe, 2010).
Although, the Cloud has brought many benefits to the world, with any new technology there are potential risks that accompany it. The biggest cost is security and privacy risks that come along with Cloud Computing. According to Paquette, Jaeger and Wilson (2010);
… a single file or data storage area may be distributed among multiple physical servers over several states; this may distribute the risk of a single point of failure, but creates multiple possible points for intrusion. (Paquette, Jaeger, & and Wilson, 2010, p. 249)
This puts those that are not tech-savvy at a huge disadvantage, as one might not know which company is the best to use, and also may not even know how to check if their data is secure or not. This is the downside of the Cloud; socially, politically and economically, as while it provides an easier way for data sharing, the security of this data is compromised on the business, individual and governmental level.
We also see that the development of this technology has had serious social, cultural and environmental impacts through the exploitation of developing countries, seen in Reading and Notley’s (2015) study on rare earths in Malaysia. This study puts the concept of the Cloud into its material base and focuses on how it has impacted the environment and the locals of these developing countries. The mining of rare earths, which is used to create Cloud Computing, has created a physically toxic environment for the local people. So while we benefit from the end product of Cloud Computing; those people who live where rare earths and the environment are harvested are extremely negatively affected.
The notion of Cloud Computing is one that has been conceptualised since the 1960s, and has transformed the way we store and share data. The implementation of the Cloud into both the professional and commercial arenas have had vast political, economic, social and cultural effects. By analysing these transformative effects in conjunction with identifying the front runners in the industry we have been able to highlight who benefits from the Cloud and who doesn’t.
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