In the simplest terms, “the cloud,” as it is called, allows users to store and access data and programs over the Internet instead of through on-premises storage devices.
The concept enables a shift away from the traditional model, where computing is done using location-specific hardware and software. In the new model, computing is conducted using off-site, third-party software and hardware accessible from any location through a broadband connection.
In a cloud computing model, information technology (IT) infrastructure is purchased as an on demand service rather than acquired through fixed capital investments.
Cloud computing offers a way for public and private sector organizations to reduce IT costs. The cost reductions, rapid scalability and flexibility of cloud solutions offer the potential for significant change in many sectors (328 kB, 39 pages) .
Experts estimate that cloud data traffic will grow at a compound annual rate of 35% between 2012 and 2017.
Various types of deployments for computer services
Cloud computing services can be deployed on a private, public, community or hybrid basis.
In private deployment, cloud services are provided to a single customer on fully dedicated IT infrastructure. Public deployment involves the provision of cloud services to organizations on shared IT infrastructure.
In community deployment, cloud services are provided on dedicated IT infrastructure to a specific community of customers who share similar computing requirements. In hybrid deployment, cloud services are provided to a customer using a combination of deployment models; for example, a public cloud could be used for data processing and a private cloud for data storage.
Three groupings of services offered by providers
Services offered through the various deployment models can be categorized into three groups (see Figure 1):
- Software as a Service (SaaS), which consists of software deployed over the Internet, often called “web applications.” Providers can license “turnkey” web applications to customers on a “pay-as-you-go” basis through various periodic payment schemes, or without charge if users generate a source of third-party income, such as advertising revenue.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS), which is an online computing platform that allows the creation of customized web applications without having to buy and maintain the software and infrastructure “backbone.” PaaS permits organizations to build applications tailored to their specific needs.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which delivers IT infrastructure as an on demand service. Instead of purchasing servers, data centre space or network equipment, users can access these resources as an outsourced service over the Internet.
Figure 1 – Types of Services Offered by Cloud Services Providers
Source: Figure prepared by the author.
Data protection and confidentiality
Benefits of cloud computing do not come without risks. The most common concerns cited relate to data protection and confidentiality. If servers owned and operated by cloud service providers are hacked, cloud users can lose important data, sustain damage to their reputations, and face costly litigation.
That said, according to an article in Business Insurance, there are no reported major cases of customers’ personal data loss by companies using cloud storage, which stands in sharp contrast to the numerous cases of personal data protection breaches involving on-premises corporate information systems.
The issue of confidentiality is closely related to data protection: if a data storage system is breached, then confidential data may be released. However, confidentiality may also be a distinct issue from data protection. For example, if governments have the power to force cloud service providers to provide clients’ data, confidentiality may be breached without a failure of the data protection system occurring.
Cloud computing strategies in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia
Unlike some other countries, Canada does not have a cloud computing strategy. Cloud computing is not specifically mentioned in the recently released Government of Canada plan for Canada’s digital future, Digital Canada 150 (3 MB, 26 pages) .
In the United States, the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy (1.6 MB, 43 pages) was introduced in February 2011. The strategy is designed to articulate the benefits, considerations and trade-offs of cloud computing.
In addition, it provides a decision framework and case examples to support agencies in migrating towards cloud computing. It also highlights cloud computing implementation resources, and identifies federal government activities and roles and responsibilities for speeding up the adoption of cloud computing.
The United Kingdom’s Government Cloud Strategy (774 kB, 24 pages) was introduced in March 2011. The so-called “G-Cloud” initiative is an ongoing and iterative program of work to enable the use of a range of cloud services. It describes changes in the way the U.K. government procures and operates information and communication technology throughout the public sector.
In Australia, the National Cloud Computing Strategy (2.4 MB, 38 pages) was introduced in May 2013. The strategy proposes actions to maximize the value of cloud computing for government; promote cloud computing to small businesses, not-for-profit organizations and consumers; and support a vibrant cloud services sector.
Mathieu Frigon, Economics, Resources and International Affairs Division, 28 May, 2014