Benefits of cloud computing: The pros and cons

A list of advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing, including some you may not know existed.

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Everybody knows the differences between using software housed in a company- or home-based server versus subscribing to that same software through a cloud service, right? Maybe, but maybe not; sometimes there's a gray area connecting them, and a user might know some of the differences, but it's more likely he or she won't know them all.

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Like a good baseball player who takes extra reps in the field and batting practice each day, we all need to go back and revisit the fundamentals now and then. So we spell out these cloud facts for you here in this article, and they're equally as important for seasoned veterans as they are for newbies. Hopefully, we include the most important facts to help you with questions involving your own use cases.

Cloud computing pros:


Overall

Cloud computing lowers IT ops costs because the cloud provider manages the underlying infrastructure, including hardware and software. Those managed components are typically more reliable and secure than the standard corporate data center because that's the provider's main business. These advantages enable IT teams to focus on work that more directly benefits the company.

The cloud is also global, convenient, eminently scalable, and accessible, all of which accelerate the time to create and deploy software applications. It opens organizations to a host of newer services that enable the most popular trends in application architectures and uses, including microservices, containers, serverless computing, machine learning, large-scale data analytics, IoT, and more.


Unlimited storage capacity

  • No matter what cloud you use, you can buy all the storage you could ever need, and it's much less expensive than having to purchase new storage hardware and software periodically. Simply be aware of the provider's rules in adding files and taking them out again.

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Automated backup/restore of files and data

  • Cloud backup is a service in which the data and applications on a business's servers are backed up and stored on a remote server. Companies opt to back up to the cloud to keep files and data readily available in the event of a system failure, outage, or natural disaster. Users also can do this on private or corporate servers, but cloud-service providers do this as standard practice 24/7, and users don't have to think about it.

Fewer administrative or management hassles

  • These are all left to the cloud service; your only requirement is that you trust your provider to do the job day in and day out.

Subscription model easier to manage than an entire system

  • Users get a monthly bill; pay it, and you're good. Your days of buying and managing applications, storage arrays, software, and security are over.

Improved collaboration and mobility

  • Users can access their apps, data, and files from anywhere on the planet and on any device -- provided they have a good, secure internet connection. The cloud has unwired the world.

Cloud computing cons:


Overall

While IT teams lower their capital expenses with cloud computing because they're not buying hardware and software, they also add non-trivial operating expenses to their budgets -- often enough to offset most or all of their operational savings. Complex pricing and security models can also lead to major problems if IT teams are unable to adapt. IT teams often must learn new skills or hire employees to navigate the cloud, and there are limits in the flexibility and control over certain cloud resources.


Dependent upon an internet connection at all times

  • While most connectivity providers produce 99.99% uptime or they're pretty much out of business, there is always the possibility that a natural disaster, a billing issue, a broken line due to local construction or similar activity, or a larger regional outage could cut you off and stop you cold in whatever online business you're doing. While hackers causing mayhem in interconnected data centers are few and far between, that kind of larger-picture problem also could arise. Better make sure you have a backup hotspot (or personal storage backup hardware) if you're working from home.

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Files are easy to store but not as simple to recover and download

  • When working with files, images, video, data logs, and other objects stored in a cloud, make sure you understand the ingress and egress rules and limitations. VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) Service Controls have a number of ingress and egress rules to allow access to and from the resources and clients protected by service perimeters. For example, the Google Cloud Platform storage ingress and egress rules are fairly extensive and explain a long list of subtopics, including policy models, API request examples, and others. An overview of Google's VPC Service Controls can be found here.

  • Similarly, Amazon Web Services has its set of VPC rules, as does Microsoft Azure. Not understanding these rules can cause lost time and effort for the user or company.

Cloud management can be complicated to monitor

  • Cloud computing management raises many information systems management issues that include ethical (security, availability, confidentiality, and privacy) issues, legal and jurisdictional issues, data lock-in, lack of standardized service level agreements (SLAs), and customisation technological bottlenecks, and others.

Technology vulnerabilities, especially in shared environments

  • Sharing a cloud provider has some associated risks. The most common cloud security issues include unauthorized access through improper access controls and the misuse of employee credentials. According to industry surveys, unauthorized access and insecure APIs are tied for the No. 1 spot as the single biggest perceived security vulnerability in the cloud. Others include internet protocol vulnerabilities, data recovery vulnerability, metering, billing evasion, vendor security risks, compliance and legal risks, and availability risks.

Data loss or theft and data leakage

  • When you store files and data in someone else's server, you're trusting the provider with your crown jewels. Whether in a cloud or on a private server, data loss refers to the unwanted removal of sensitive information, either due to an information system error or theft by cybercriminals. Data leaks are unauthorized exposures of sensitive information through vulnerabilities on the digital landscape. Data leakage threats usually occur via the web and email, but they can also happen via mobile data storage devices, such as optical media, USB keys, and laptops. Data loss occurs when data is accidentally deleted, or something causes data to become corrupted. Viruses, physical damage, or formatting errors can render data unreadable by both humans and software. In other instances, lost files and information cannot be recovered, making data loss prevention an essential tool.

Denial of service attacks

  • A denial-of-service (DoS) attack is an attack meant to shut down a machine or network, making it inaccessible to its intended users. DoS attacks accomplish this by flooding the target with traffic or sending it information that triggers a crash. Cloud-service users have little or no control over DoS attacks; this again illustrates the importance of personal data backup.

Cloud computing FAQ

Are cloud computing and software-as-a-service the same thing?

SaaS started the move toward cloud computing by demonstrating that IT services could be made available, safe, and efficient over the web. While SaaS vendors originally did not use the word "cloud" to describe their offerings, analysts now consider SaaS to be one of several subsets of the cloud-computing market. 

Although the cloud was pre-dated in the late 1990s by application service providers, which generally were single-purpose vendors with frail connections and subpar security, AWS is generally credited with starting the cloud era in fall 2006 with the release of its Simple Storage Service, or S3.

What are the types of cloud?

Private clouds are cordoned-off workspaces hosted in a corporate data center or a colocation facility. They lack the massive scale of public clouds, but they do have elasticity, and a company's developers and administrators can still use self-service portals to access resources. In theory, private clouds provide greater control and security, though it's up to a company's IT team to ensure that happens.

Public clouds, such as AWS and Azure, and private clouds can be linked to create a hybrid cloud, or two or more public clouds can be connected to create a multi-cloud architecture.

What types of applications can run in the cloud?

Technically, users can put any application in the cloud. IDC research indicates the top uses of the cloud are IT management, collaboration, personal and business applications, application development and deployment, and server and storage capacity.

What kind of services and applications are considered cloud services?

A few well-known examples of cloud services include Microsoft 365, Zoom, Webex, Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Skydrive, Google Apps, YouTube, Dropbox, and Box. 

What is cloud bursting?

Cloud bursting relates to hybrid clouds. The idea is that a given application runs typically in a private cloud or a local computing environment. If a situation arises where the application needs additional resources (computing power, storage, etc.), it can "burst" into the public cloud and use cloud computing for those additional resources. Of course, this can add complexity to the application design. Some vendors provide hybrid cloud solutions that facilitate taking advantage of cloud bursting.