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A new shift in computing is upon us -- cloud computing. As our use of computing resources evolves from mainframes to PCs and networks, we are now facing a major shift in the way we work. This could have dramatic effects on the way we use our computers, both for work or play. But the security issues need to be discussed, risks assessed and judgements made knowing the risks and issues. For some, cloud computing makes a lot of business sense; for others, it may create confusion.

So what is cloud computing? For many it is the natural evolution of the Internet. The Internet has provided a major shift in the way we work. Less than 20 years ago, there was a comment by Ray Noorda, the CEO of Novell, I think -- "If you don't have an email address on your business card, you will be considered a nobody" -- and most people did not believe it. Twenty years later and it seems pretty much has an email address, if not one at work, then a Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo! account. And these email accounts are the first example of cloud computing!

Cloud computing gets its name from network diagrams where the Internet is always shown as a cloud, as the route taken through the Internet cannot normally be defined and is unknown. The route is irrelevant. The concept of cloud computing is that the central computer system or systems are hosted in the Internet and their actual location is irrelevant to the application and its successful deployment. The architecture is relatively simple -- a data store and server are hosted on the Internet, and the client can access the server from anywhere. Normally the client will have a web-based front end to make access even easier. The first major examples are the email services from Hotmail and the others mentioned above.

The concepts of cloud computing have evolved to the concept being promoted today where there will be no need to purchase software, but it will be rented either on an annual basis or on a pay per use model. And now the model has added the concept of free use of software, in return for receiving adverts.

The major benefit of cloud computing for a user is financial. There is no need to invest in hardware infrastructure or software. However, there are a number of issues that need to be considered.


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