Interop Case Study #3: Cloud Computing

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In recent years, the growth of cloud computing has enabled users to utilize storage or processing power from geographically distant locations over the Internet. Cloud technologies have been lauded as a means for enhancing productivity, efficiency, and innovation by allowing on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable networks, servers, applications, and services. According to a recent IBM study, the number of businesses adopting cloud computing to revamp existing business models will more than double by 2015, as business leaders are starting to view the cloud not just as a way to cut costs but also as a means for fundamental business innovation.

Due to the growing ubiquity of cloud computing in the digital world, examining issues of cloud interoperability offers profound insights about the legal, public policy, and technological challenges faced by businesses and other institutions engaged in this field. Berkman student fellow Matthew Becker’s recent case study on the topic, developed as part of our ongoing series on interoperability, suggests that greater scientific and technological reform, balanced with salient consideration of legal and social factors (such as user behavior and expectations), is required for successful interoperability in cloud computing.

Financial considerations can often drive small businesses “to the cloud.” Specifically, many businesses with underutilized IT departments have found cloud computing to be highly cost-effective. Simultaneously, on the end-user side, consumers have benefited from and enjoyed free or low-cost software from the cloud, which is becoming available on an increasing number of portable devices.

As explored in the case study and our book Interop, there are two integral dimensions to cloud computing interoperability: the vertical dimension and the horizontal dimension.

  • The vertical dimension involves interoperability of software, applications, and data within a single cloud. In other words, from the consumer’s perspective, does the cloud-based software work or can the cloud-based data be accessed on most Internet-enabled devices? Can this software or data integrate other applications or additional data that the user’s devices can access?
  • The horizontal dimension of cloud computing interoperability involves the concept of interoperability between clouds. In other words, how easily can a business that has cloud-hosted software or data transfer to an alternative cloud provider? Among other considerations, consistencies in cloud computing contracts, security features, privacy shields, authentication management, are vital when discussing this horizontal dimension of cloud computing interoperability. One of the primary foreseeable difficulties with cloud computing in the modern era is the possibility of a firm or individual becoming “locked-in” to the use of the cloud provider or platform with which they started.

Cloud computing interoperability promises many important societal benefits; better interoperability could facilitate much more efficient allocation of scarce computing resources, encourage greater device portability, allow increased access to computational power for small firms and developing countries, and decrease capital expenditures for such firms and nations. One such example is ULAP (University Learning Acceleration Platform), a cloud-computing infrastructure in the Philippines that is designed to help advance technological advancement in a developing country’s university program by taking advantage of open source virtualization technologies and cloud management platforms. Yet another successful example is Netflix, in which it owes its success to cloud computing by introducing on-demand streaming service based on cloud-based infrastructure. However, we must also be aware of the security, privacy, and international legal risks inherent in agreements to store data with and become reliant upon certain cloud providers.

Because cloud computing is an increasingly important part of our digital existence, the potential implications of cloud computing interoperability are profound. Household Internet names such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle—to name a few—are all affected daily by changes in cloud computing, which in turn affect database technologies, social networking, virtualization, public policy responses, and more. Thus, cloud computing interoperability both plays a role in influential business decisions at the microeconomic level and at the level of government policies that build the foundation on which macroeconomic forces act. Our study concludes by reaffirming this idea as well as by contending that the future direction of cloud computing interoperability will profoundly affect technological innovation in ways that shape our society and our world.

2 Comments »

  1. Corporate Strategy Group

    August 22, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

    1

    Harvard Cloud Computing Case Study…

    The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University has published a research paper titled “Interoperability Case Study Cloud Computing.”  The case study is part of a series of case studies that “focuses on the relationship be…

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    Law and Information » Blog Archive » Interop Case Study #3: Cloud Computing

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