"Cloud" computing is the term used to describe the utilisation of the internet for the purpose of storing and processing data using online technology services.
It enables multiple external users to use their PCs or other technology-enabled devices to access storage and processing capabilities of the cloud, any time, anywhere (as long as they are able to connect to the internet).
Many desktop applications are already offered online - such as Google Apps, Microsoft's Live Mesh, and Amazon S3. These applications allow files to be stored in the cloud and be accessible from internet enabled computers.
The massive processing ability offered by cloud computing, empowers low processing power devices such mobile phones to offer end-users services, which would not otherwise be possible. For instance, a handset loaded with Windows Mobile 6.1 is able to provide better quality voice processing as the required power can be sourced from the cloud as opposed to being reliant on the limited inbuilt processing power of mobile handsets.
Gartner predicts that cloud computing will be as influential as e-business.
There are of course security concerns regarding the enormous amount of digital data that is/will be stored in the cloud. Great reliance on the cloud for data storage can also be detrimental to users in the event of data loss, or loss of connection with the cloud. It is therefore imperative that users take care in ensuring that certain information is kept with them at all times.
Such issues arising from the scale of Cloud computing give rise to challenges for the computing science industry. In response, Intel, Yahoo and HP have teamed up to create virtual research centres to consider these challenges and provide solutions that will make Cloud computing reliable, manageable and secure.
From a legal perspective, the trans-border nature of Cloud computing whilst enabling, does give rise to considerations regarding the security of the data and controlling access to it. It must be appreciated that data that is exchanged via or stored in a Cloud exists on a physical hard drive or in solid state memory. These physical hard drives are subject to the laws and regulations of the countries within which they reside. Such laws and regulation can provide access to the relevant data beyond that which the owner of the data intended. For example, the UK Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act enables police or secret services to demand access to database and servers. Similar powers are provided to the FBI and other agencies under the US Patriot Act. Under such laws, the encryption of the data would not ensure its security either.
Users of cloud computing must therefore be aware of the limitations of this emerging concept, and factor in these limitations when utilising its powers.