Jumbled business and technology glyphs over ominous sky pretty much says it all. No one really knows when the cloud started. Microsoft introduced Hotmail as the free web mail service in 1996. By 1999, Google dominated with search. Those few building blocks have propelled us to the cloud world we have today.
In the 2014 comedy Sex Tape, Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz inadvertently have their escapades shared to the world with the memorable line “Nobody understands the cloud!”. However, we all innately know that cloud computing just means that we are connecting to a server somewhere on the Internet.
Legacy cloud of the early and mid 2000s was all about the facilities. We experienced heat waves, power outages, tsunamis, floods, wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, ice storms, and blizzards. Relocating servers to a hosting or cloud provider began to make sense. Most organizations didn’t have hardened facilities, emergency generators, or redundant Internet connections. The rub though is that legacy hosting is simply added cost for the illusion of safety. Customers must still deal with planned obsolescence in servers and the challenges of the waterfall effect for replacement hardware and upgraded software. Plus, questions start to arise about the ruffians who may work for the host, data replication, and even the feasibility of getting to the host facility in the event of a disaster.
Today, hosting at local or regional providers has been displaced by cloud computing of three major players: Amazon, Microsoft, and Google. Amazon emerged as an early leader with a low cost strategy similar to Wal-Mart. Microsoft differentiates with security and productivity. While Google bills itself as a utility, leveraging the massive infrastructure required for search.
You might be thinking “What about Apple?”. Computer was dropped from the company name almost two decades ago and any cloud service will likely center around streaming music rather than business computing. The Mac has never had more than 6% market share versus PC. While dominant in the U.S., iPhone has only 14% of the worldwide market share. With recent security vulnerabilities in the consumer iCloud service and the raging battle with Android, Apple must decide if it wants to compete in cloud or continue with the existing consumer and music strategy.
In Cloud 2.0, there is a global perspective. For example, Microsoft Azure has 16 regions of geo-redundant datacenters around the world. Each region has enough capacity for more than 640,000 servers.
Modern data centers generally are not brick and mortar. They are placed in remote areas and not designed for public access. Modular design means preconfigured trailers of equipment are coupled together with power and network connections. This approach provides limited physical access with the ability to move or change the data center in large sections.
Despite the numerous acronyms for cloud computing, there are generally two categories: platform and productivity. You can have virtual servers at Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or Google Compute Engine. Microsoft Office 365 leads the productivity space followed by Google Apps. Microsoft also has expanded to device security with Windows Intune and customer relationship management with Dynamics CRM Online.
Security is what separates major players in cloud computing. That starts with Federal Information Security Management Act compliance and down. Regional and national hosts stop at HIPAA and PCI. Small cloud providers often cannot achieve compliance much above ISO 27001 or SAS 70.
To date, there have been no iconic security breaches for major business services like Google Apps or Office 365. Consumer cloud security breaches have been prevalent and highly publicized. Target and Home Depot failed to patch know vulnerabilities in Point-of-Sale software. Apple iCloud and Sony PlayStation Network had poor password security. JP Morgan Chase was the likely victim of a phishing scam or Linux vulnerability.
Linux is now the most vulnerable platform as shown by recent examples like Heartbleed, Shellshock, and iWorm. The most popular web servers are Apache and Nginx. Android dominates smartphones, followed by Apple iOS. All of these solutions are variants of Linux. It’s a myth to continue claiming Linux security by obscurity or limited usage. Further, consolidated and automated security updates with malware protection is urgently needed.
Encryption will be one of the main strategies for preventing security breaches. Google leads the industry by encouraging websites to encrypt all traffic by default. This practice not only protects web browsers, but ensures reputable sites with verifiable owners and locations to even be able to obtain a website SSL certificate. As for e-mail, Pretty Good Protection (PGP) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) are no longer enough. If you’re not logging into a secure portal for encrypted e-mail, you might as well assume your private messages are exposed to the world.
Two form authentication is the other way to greatly lessen security vulnerabilities. Most cloud services offer the capability to require a password and a pin number that is texted to your phone in order to logon. With a password you know and a phone you must have, hackers have a much more difficult time accessing your account.
So what happens if someone steals your phone? Well, you should always make sure you use a pin to access your phone, but that’s where products like Microsoft Intune come into play. Intune has the ability to lock, disable services, and wipe Android, iOS, and Windows devices. The ability to control devices connected Internet is becoming a standard requirement.
Modern networks have morphed from layers of hardware and software infrastructure protected at headquarters to distributed applications at multiple cloud providers. This strategy allows for high business continuity in disaster recovery and limited downtime for any one particular application. The game has changed to ensuring Internet availability and secure access anywhere, rather than cost failover sites with the liability of employees traveling to the facility during emergent situations.
We’ve moved from physical servers housed on premise to virtual servers running in the cloud. That makes computer time like money because we must pay for the run time per hour and storage.
Even so, cloud offerings like Office 365 are a 34% savings over 10 years versus on premise servers, software, and maintenance. Cash outlay is relatively flat and business disruption is much less by escaping planned obsolescence and challenging upgrade every 4 years.
For $240 per user per year, an organization can now provide complete productivity with access to communications, files, and applications on up to 5 devices per user. For another $72 per user per year, that same organization can control and protect 5 devices for that user. People can now use their own device while companies can control access to data.
Such flexibility comes with greater personal responsibility. If you wouldn’t say it in church or to your mother, then you should be just as respectful in e-mail, instant messaging, or social media posts. Just like there is no excuse for not knowing the rules of the road, you must take extra effort to learn and understand the technology you use. Being trustworthy and capable requires more discipline in the virtual world than the real one.
It’s likely the height of hypocrisy to rail about privacy, while we willingly share many aspects of our personal lives in social media. The truth is that every keystroke is recorded on your device for diagnostics and files are not truly deleted. Cameras, microphones, and wireless connections are everywhere. You need to assume that your actions are generally being recorded.
It’s not Skynet, but machine learning will soon change our world. We now have self-driving cars and software that automatically scales servers and provisions new processes based upon forecast usage. If you think you’ll just get off the grid, social media is already discovering your likely profile by family and friends that are on the service.
With over 90% of the world’s data generated in the last few years, successful people of the future will focus on making sense of the overload of information using dashboards. Power Business Intelligence is just one of the early tools to do things like converting a series of spreadsheets into key performance dashboards with no programming.
Similarly, if you’re going to compete and be found in a sea of data, you’re content and approach must be different. Use a TED format for presentations, so you have interesting visuals for a story or concept, rather than mind-numbing bullet points. Make sure your titles are unique in Google. Repurpose your presentations and link together for a blog post, podcast, or video.
Above all, push anything about you or your organization to the background and give answers or inspiration. Frank Sinatra begins to sing “My Way”, as we see a moving backdrop of New York City from Derek Jeter’s view inside the limo. You see the newspaper stand with the headline “Goodbye, Captain!” and Derek decides to get out and walk the rest of the way to the stadium. He talks to fans, wanders through a local pub, and signs lots of autographs. At the stadium he stops to reflect, gets dressed, and goes up the steps touching the sign reading “I want to thank God for making me a Yankee” one more time. Derek then turns back toward the camera and you see the Gatorade cooler stand. Then he’s up the stairs and on the field waving his hat to the fans as Sinatra ends the song.
Someday maybe we’ll all market as well as Gatorade. I hope that you picked up a few facts about cloud and maybe you’re inspired to get into Orbit and try the cloud now.