Cloud computing

15 08 2012

Cloud computing is taking on a larger role in the way we use technology.  In our personal and professional lives, we use iPads, iPods and other iDevices to connect to Apple’s cloud, which contains everything from our vacation photos and workout playlists to our budget spreadsheets and business presentation slideshows (we also use Android devices to do the same with Google’s cloud).  We love the convenience of being able to access our data from anywhere, at anytime, and that we don’t have to worry about purchasing or toting around storage devices with limited space.

A similar movement is taking place in the business realm, as well.  According to an article at Comupterworld, the “market for public cloud infrastructure, platforms and applications is large and growing much more quickly than any other type of IT spending.”  The article cites various studies which predict the market to reach anywhere from $56 billion to $100 billion by the year 2014, but all of the numbers are moving upward (it states that the market was $16 billion in 2010) [1].

However, cloud computing is not completely free from scruples held by potential adopters.  A Forbes article recently cited a North Bridge Venture Partners survey of 785 companies and revealed that only 50% of responders expressed “complete confidence” in this form of data management.  “Security remains the primary inhibitor to adoption in the burgeoning cloud marketplace with 55% of respondents identifying it as a concern,” the article states. [2]  With great legal, financial, and reputational stakes at risk, it is understandable why some business organizations may be shy about outsourcing the management and protection of sensitive data to outside entities.

However, new developments in data management may change this.  One notable breakthrough includes “fully homomorphic encryption,” developed by IBM.  This method

uses a mathematical object called an ideal lattice, to allow people to fully interact with encrypted data in ways previously thought impossible. The implications of the technique mean that computer vendors storing the confidential, electronic data of others will be able to fully analyze data on their client’s behalf without expensive interaction with the client, and without seeing any of the private data. With Gentry’s technique, states a release, the analysis of encrypted information can yield the same detailed analysis as if the original data was fully visible to all. [3]
Such a technique would provide useful in many business contexts.  For example, a healthcare organization who entrusts the management of patient data to a cloud provider may wish to request a report of the number of patients presenting with a particular complaint, or the frequency with which a particular medication was administered over the past month.  With fully homomorphic encryption, the provider could generate such a report without needing to directly view any sensitive patient information.

While the ascent into the cloud is likely to continue, developments in data security will play a large factor in speeding its acceptance.

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[1] http://blogs.computerworld.com/16863/cloud_computing_by_the_numbers_what_do_all_the_statistics_mean

[2] http://www.forbes.com/sites/joemckendrick/2012/06/20/cloud-computing-simply-isnt-that-scary-anymore-survey/

[3] http://www.banktech.com/risk-management/218101557

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