TECH | Oct 9, 2018

Back2basics: Cloud Computing

The meaning of the words "Cloud Computing"

From the desk to the Clouds. From a Personal Computer to a widespread and pervasive information system. A real paradigm shift that has influenced the lives of all – really all – users. Even of those – many – who have no idea what it is, let alone make daily use of it.

Cloud Computing represents a change that concerns the very essence of the network: the client-server model. This is a principle whereby when users connect to a service with their computer (the client, in fact), they are accustomed to think that the address they write in the browser bar ( corresponds to a computer – the server – which, from anywhere in the world, immediately responds and sends the information requested (the Google homepage).

But what happens if many – too many – users want to access that service simultaneously? What happens is that a single computer does not have enough computing power to effectively respond to all the requests that reach it at the same time, and it slows down until it stops. Solution? Use two. Or twenty. Or two hundred. Or two thousand. Simultaneously: in such a way that each of them – based on their specific workload – devotes some of their time to satisfying part of the user’s request. A real cloud of computers (in fact) that responds to user requests quickly and effectively, distributing the workload over all the computers that are part of it. In short: connecting to a website today does not necessarily mean receiving information from one computer, but from an indefinite number of processors that elaborate the request simultaneously, unpacking it on multiple computers to provide the answer in the shortest possible time. Result? Thousands or millions of users can simultaneously connect to the Google page, or to Facebook, or to any other website without slowing the service down (so much for click-days and who, organizing them, does not size well the number of computers to be used).

Software as service

But there’s more: what happens when the computational capacity and that of storing information, thanks to the cloud, increase in a virtually unlimited way, and broadband spreads more and more (… or at least should)? What happens is that the services provided can become increasingly complex, up to allowing users to take advantage of computer systems and programs developed in the cloud with the same ease as when they access a program on their computer. With the logical consequence that taking the trouble to install software on your PC or buy new hard drives or USB sticks to store work begins to become less and less useful. It is much more convenient, in fact, to use the software as if it were a service, accessing it when necessary, and uploading your files online, without overloading your IT infrastructure.

Service models such as SaaS (the acronym for “Software as a Service”) and IaaS (standing for “Infrastructure as a Service”) have been developed which, beyond the acronyms – which express all the perversion of computer scientists when they have to coin new acronyms – are the technical terms that define services that everyone uses. From the e-mail of Google, which with its online interface has made it unnecessary to have an e-mail client on your computer, to systems for storing your files on the network, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. To arrive at solutions designed for companies.

What are the advantages of Cloud Computing?

They are countless. Your programs are always available and from any computer or device (such as your smartphone), without having to worry about installing them, let alone updating them. You no longer risk forgetting your USB flash drive with the latest version of your work or customer archive at home or – worse – losing it on the train, with the result of reaching work… without the work, and with all the consequences for the security and privacy of information that is easy to imagine (but on the other hand, who does not think that certain things happen only to others?). Every company can allow itself to use complex software which, up until some time ago, required the presence of highly specialized personnel in the structure. And costly.

What are the risks?

But of course, all that glitters is not gold. Because, cliché for cliché, the other side of Cloud Computing exists, and before putting files and programs among the clouds you have to use your head and think about the potential risks: where do your files end up? On the “private” cloud created by your company or on a public cloud for which you have to verify its effectiveness, security and reliability? How important is the information being shared? Where is it stored, in Italy or abroad? And in addition: what if the connection is not fast enough to allow easy access to what is available online or, worse, is not there at all? And furthermore: what are the terms of service of the contract signed with your provider (yes, what you sign by pressing “OK” when you sign up and which normally nobody reads).

Cloud yes, but with awareness

In short: Cloud Computing is a service delivery model that opens up opportunities for individuals and businesses, but also requires users to be aware of the risks involved, as well as the opportunities. Once again, in order to make the most of digital transformation, we need awareness first of all. In other words, to enter the Cloud you cannot have your head in the clouds.

Stefano Epifani