Cloud Computing

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Cloud computing refers to the newly emerging practice of allowing users to access software applications that are stored in a central location, usually by a vendor, rather than buying licenses and installing the software on their own machines. They would pay for the use of the software, as well as for storing any data in that central location. The important functionalities most people (as a user), usually seek are:

  • High availability: All time access to information on a device with no or less configuration limitation
  • Accurate information: Access to latest information updated dynamically
  • Management issues: Minimum dealing with maintenance of supporting software/hardware

It is Cloud Computing that always provides a real time information to any user (irrespective to location) with minimal access specific conditions, be it hardware or software. Data storage is a major component of cloud computing, both for individual users and companies. Microsoft's Windows 7 offers a cloud storage option called SkyDrive. It also offers the ability to synchronize data - between computers, or between computers and other devices such as mobile phones.

Most users are familiar with some form of cloud computing. Web-based email services like Yahoo and GMail are a form of cloud computing, because the application and data are not stored on the user's local machine but at central locations. Paying for using computer applications that are stored in the cloud is a concept that is not so familiar for the majority of users.


Writing on the web site, author Sourya (sic) notes that 'the general idea behind the technology dates back to the 1960s, when John McCarthy wrote that “computation may someday be organized as a public utility”.' McCarthy is a professor emeritus at Stanford University, and is also credited with coining the term 'artificial intelligence.'

Sourya continues: The term “cloud computing” was most probably derived from the diagrams of clouds used to represent the Internet in textbooks...The first time the term was used in its current context was in a 1997 lecture by Ramnath Chellappa where he defined it as a new “computing paradigm where the boundaries of computing will be determined by economic rationale rather than technical limits alone.”


Sourya again: One of the first movers in cloud computing was, which in 1999 introduced the concept of delivering enterprise applications via a simple website. Amazon was next on the bandwagon, launching Amazon Web Service in 2002. Then came Google Docs in 2006 which really brought cloud computing to the forefront of public consciousness. 2006 also saw the introduction of Amazon’s Elastic Compute cloud (EC2) as a commercial web service that allowed small companies and individuals to rent computers on which to run their own computer applications.

This was soon followed by an industry-wide collaboration in 2007 between Google, IBM and a number of universities across the United States. Next came Eucalyptus in 2008, the first open source AWS API compatible platform for deploying private clouds, followed by OpenNebula, the first open source software for deploying private and hybrid clouds.

2009 saw Microsoft’s entry into cloud computing with the launch of Windows Azure in November.[1]

The sequential development in IT can be viewed as shown below:

Pen-Paper Computers Internet Cloud Computing

Pen paper.gif


Computer repair.jpg

  • Physical entities
  • Need sophisticated data stores
  • Static Desktop unit – An electronic version of Pen- paper
  • Single physical unit can store multiple information with required supporting software/hardware installed on it
  • Share information
  • Provide ease in sharing, however, the information (file) goes from one unit (computer) to another unit
  • Difficulty in managing information due to
  • Duplication
  • Individually update/upgrade the information on each machine
  • Reduced mobility up-to certain extent
  • Combine individual facilities of computers and Internet
  • Easily access cloud specific information with improved mobility
  • Less IT management burden to the user/client


Cloud computing offers some obvious advantages - and concerns - for both businesses and individuals. Prominent among these is economy and flexibility. In 'The New Age of Cloud Computing and GIS' [2] Victoria Kouyoumjian writes that: 'The pay-as-you-go pricing model is often quite flexible when renting cloud applications or infrastructure, allowing prospective cloud clients to "try before they buy," while existing cloud consumers can pay in advance to take advantage of volume discounts and satisfy budget forecasting requirements. Renting assets shifts the duty of maintaining on-premises data centers to the cloud vendor, alleviating the customer's responsibility for software and hardware maintenance, ongoing operation, and support.'

GIS on Cloud Computing

User[3] Component[4] Example[5]
  • Mobile - Portable Device
  • Thin – Computers to 'only' display information
  • Thick – Regular computers
SaaS - Software as a Service
  • Document creation services by Google Apps
  • Business Analyst Online
PaaS - Platform as a Service
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
IaaS - Infrastructure as a Service Providers:
  • Amazon
  • VMware
  • AT&T


Security and privacy are the two concerns that come up immediately when cloud computing is discussed. There have been well-publicized breaches, including at and Google. In addition to beefing up security measures, businesses may also consider the possibility of setting up private cloud computing, or a hybrid model that has both private and public components. As valid for each technology, a user should be aware of areas of concern and their logical answers before switching over to Cloud Computing:

  • Security and Privacy:
  • How to set security on confidential data, shared and accessed by multiple users, when source of information is not known
  • Transparency as far as security is concerned – “Hybrid” cloud is possible[6]
  • Financial Benefits:
  • Savings compared with current and future business requirements and cost
  • Scalability:
  • Cost and other technical issues to use additional resources



There needs to be a separate topic on cloud computing and GIS.