“… cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—including servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and intelligence—over the Internet (‘the cloud’) to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale.” – Microsoft.
Origins of ‘the Cloud’
The concept of sharing computers at distance has been around since the very early days of the Internet but it was not until the 1990s the term “Cloud” gained popularity, expressing the empty space between the end user and the provider. In 1999, Salesforce pioneered the idea of delivering software programs to end users over the Internet, and in 2002 Amazon introduced its web-based retail services allowing developers to use its spare computing capacity.
By 2011 there was more widespread use of hybrid clouds, a notable example being the gaming company Zynga, which launched its new games in the public Cloud (Amazon), enabling rapid scaling for successful games, then - once capacity was understood - they could be moved to their private Cloud.
Now, Cloud computing can embrace a wide variety of services.
Key Cloud Vendors and Trends
Amazon (33%), Microsoft (22%), and Google (10%) collectively harvested 65% of global spend (outside China) on Cloud computing in Q1 2022, according to a recent report by the US-based Synergy Research Group. This translates into quarterly earnings of US$52.7 billion and annual revenues of $191 billion for the Cloud providers market, growing 34% year-on-year.
The top three companies dominate the market, leaving only niche players. As one example, Shadow is a Cloud-computing service for gamers providing, effectively, a Windows-based gaming-optimised PC in the Cloud.
For the future, Gartner says more than half of enterprise IT spending will shift to the Cloud by 2025 and almost two-thirds of spending on application software will be directed toward Cloud technologies in 2025, up from 58% in 2022. “The shift to the Cloud has only accelerated over the past two years due to Covid-19, as organizations responded to a new business and social dynamic,” said Michael Warrilow, Research Vice President at Gartner.
Defence Cloud Initiatives
Beyond the MS&T community, the Cloud approach is being actively pursued by defence departments to meet their wider digital needs. The journey can be rocky. The US DoD published its Cloud Strategy in 2018, stating the Cloud was a “Department priority” and “is a fundamental component of the global infrastructure that will empower the warfighter with data and is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage.” Subsequently the DoD awarded the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud computing programme to Microsoft in 2019. However, with many hurdles - including AWS battling the decision in the courts - by 2021 JEDI was cancelled “due to evolving requirements, increased Cloud conversancy, and industry advances,” the Pentagon stated.
The Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) succeeds JEDI but at the time of writing the contract award had slipped to end-2022.
Other nations also talk Cloud but struggle with full implementation. The UK MoD’s 2021 Digital Strategy points towards a “Digital Backbone” which will be “Cloud-based” but it is not clear if and when this might support S&T users.
To IBM, a “hybrid Cloud combines and unifies public Cloud and private Cloud services from multiple Cloud vendors to create a single, flexible, cost-optimal IT infrastructure”. It further defines a hybrid multi-Cloud as one that “includes more than one public Cloud from more than one Cloud service provider”. The benefits of a hybrid Cloud include that the organisation can decide where the application and data best sit from a security and compliance perspective; performance and latency can be better optimised; and computing capabilities can better respond to demand, improving flexibility and resilience.
With improvements in networking and Cloud technologies it is now possible to deliver and consume multimedia in a continuous manner from a source, with little or no intermediate storage in network elements. This so-called streaming can be seen in music, video and gaming. Although video game streaming is technologically demanding, all the big three Cloud providers have game streaming services together with NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW, which had 12 million users in 2021. The main advantage of game streaming is that it is much more user-hardware independent, although it does rely on having good bandwidth and low latency.
M&S as a Service (MSaaS)
With recent developments in Cloud computing technology and service-oriented architectures, MSaaS is a NATO-driven concept that includes the provision of M&S applications via the as-a-service model of Cloud computing. The MSaaS paradigm supports standalone use as well as integration of multiple simulated and real systems into a unified Cloud-based simulation environment whenever the need arises.
Virtualisation, Containers, Kubernetes and Cloud Native
Virtualisation is a long-standing technique for creating virtual machines that are fully fledged computers but are virtual or simulated. One advantage of virtualisation is that legacy applications can be more easily run on new operating systems. Much like shipping containers drove efficiencies in transport through standardisation, Cloud containers are a solution to the problem of how to get software to run reliably when moved from one computing environment or Cloud to another. A container image consists of everything needed to run an application and is readily portable.
Docker is one of the most popular tools for application containerisation. Kubernetes, first developed by Google, is an open-source system for automating deployment scaling and management of containerised applications. According to Microsoft, Cloud-native architecture and technologies are “an approach to designing, constructing, and operating workloads that are built in the Cloud and take full advantage of the Cloud computing model.”
Driven in part by increased adoption of Cloud and mobile services, Zero Trust is an IT security model that assumes networks, applications and data should not be trusted. It is rooted in the principle of never trust, always verify (devices and users). Of late, as organisations seek to exploit on-premises and off-premises Cloud technology, this security approach is increasingly seen as a solution to contemporary and future cyber-security challenges. For example, a recent White House Executive Order states the US Federal Government must “advance toward Zero Trust Architecture”, meeting zero trust requirements by 2024, and “accelerate movement to secure Cloud services.”
Hyperscale Clouds rely on massively scalable server architectures and virtual networking and provide an ability to scale appropriately as increased demand is added to the system.
Gartner posits that edge computing is where information processing is carried out close to where things and people produce or consume that information. Edge and Cloud are complementary concepts, not competitive styles or architectures; location is the critical determinant.