Networking 101: Cloud Computing

December 15, 2011, By George Lang

What exactly is the Cloud? If we envision the Internet as the atmosphere surrounding our Earth, then we can speak of patches of clear sky, randomly interspersed by opaque condensations of misty humid areas. These precipitants can be pictured as tiny networks within the overall larger atmospheric Internet. The sum total of these smaller networks within the Internet is commonly referred to as the Cloud.

The Cloud, by definition, exists outside your home, place of business, and local area network (LAN). Your subscription to sections of the Cloud consists of accessing services that are formed in a logical arrangement of resources rather than in any physical or localized network environment.

For instance, you may use the Cloud to backup and remotely store critical company documents. The Cloud servers that perform these functions are usually maintained in at least two different synchronized locations. The hosting company must ensure reliable 365/24/7 access and availability to their clients’ data, as well as protection from natural disasters and/or catastrophic events. Hosting from two separate physical locations is the best way for them to avoid the liability of potential data loss.

Additionally, you may subscribe to online office applications. These services, such as word processing applications, spread sheet programs, presentation software, and collaboration tools will likely be located on an entirely different set of web-based servers. Individuals may subscribe to many of these Cloud services, free of charge, at places like Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live. Premium services for businesses are available at Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Business.

Security in a Cloud-based environment is of primary concern to users and to host companies alike. Because both activities and data are located outside the LAN, new and challenging forms of authenticating and authorizing users are required to take the place of the normally reliable corporate and/or home-based firewall. Administrators refer to the unenviable necessity of opening holes in the firewall to allow these services through. To investigate Cloud security deeper, click here.

Additional complexity enters the picture when companies allow employees access to resources via a virtual private network (VPN). This is commonplace on the contemporary enterprise level as valuable workers do more and more of their work from home and on the road. Securing such activity requires administrators lock-down the network from the outside in.

Imagine a large company who spends millions ensuring their firewall is secure enough to keep all hackers from entering their networks from the Internet, only to find someone has compromised the system by plugging an infected USB flash drive into an unprotected computer inside. Security has become enormously more complex with the advent of Cloud computing.

We leave you this week with a vendor’s view of the Cloud. A word of caution is in order: This is what they’d like you to believe. See you next week.


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