The Cost of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing allows for seamless and convenient use of online services that previously required more time, space, and money. For example, when creating a document (thanks to Google Drive) – it is no longer necessary to store the document on your personal computer’s drive, which keeps storage space open. It also reduces the amount of email correspondence necessary when editing a document or working on a group project because Google Drive allows for “sharing” as well as simultaneous editing of the same document. When given the option of protecting data on your own computer vs. using a program like Google Drive or iCloud- the winner is often the most convenient option, unless the user is aware of the disadvantages of using such a tool. 

From our discussions in this course, we recognize that giving away our information in order to receive convenience comes with negative outcomes. A key issue is the lack of clear information on exactly how each cloud service works. This keeps big companies like Amazon and Google in control over the majority of the population, and the more black-boxed technologies continue to emerge, the more control these companies have over the rest of the market. The issue with only a few large tech companies providing these services is that they are not being held accountable by a universal standard or regulation, which keeps us informed as users and therefore unaware of all the consequences that accompany use.

Cloud Computing:

Host companies (Amazon, Google, Microsoft) – own and run the datacentres, servers, hard disks and processors for the computation 

Cloud Service Providers (SaaS) Google Drive, Dropbox – provide online services

Clouders: users of the service at home or business

Key Positive / Negative Consequences

Sharing & Storage Capacity

The ability to easily share large files through services such as Dropbox and Google Drive are a big positive consequence of cloud services. In addition, storing information within a cloud service rather than on a pc drive or external drive, has allowed for created a more minimalistic storage option that individuals and corporations are endlessly benefitting from. 

Saving Energy 

A 2010 Pike Research study (as cited in DeBruin and Floridi, 2017) found that cloud computing can reduce energy consumption by almost 40% – mostly due to “outsourcing computational tasks from inefficient local datacentres (or home and office computers) to the more efficient large datacentres of the hosting companies.” Cloud Computing can therefore be a solution to controlling the amount of energy used for computing by reducing the need for powerful hardware. On the other hand, more information about how many datacentres are needed to support cloud services and what impact they are having on the environment in totality. 

Lack of Transparency/Communication

Terms of service and license agreements are not user-friendly, and create lack of transparency in the industry-client relationship. These are usually created to avoid any legal repercussions rather than intending on informing the client about the service (DeBruin and Floridi, 2017). Although these agreements do include the most information heavy communication, they are not utilized as such from the users of the services due to the length and technical jargon. 

Business Costs

Large businesses benefit from the cloud architecture because they no longer have to pay for software to be installed, configured, and maintained on each computer (DeBruin and Floridi, 2017). The disadvantage is for smaller companies because they might not be able to pay for the services (fees, updates, etc) and therefore are left out of the advantages. Additionally, the services are intended by design for larger companies – which makes using the services more difficult and less tailored to the smaller ones. This is one of the major disadvantages of having the big four services – it automatically favors larger businesses that can afford to pay for and benefit from the cloud architecture. This leads to the question of who is really benefitting from cloud computing and is it contributing to the digital divide rather than closing it? 

“While cloud computing seems to be a boon to a population that cannot afford the computer equipment that is necessary for today’s IT—a very simple laptop is sufficient for cloud computing—it also requires reliable, ubiquitous and high speed Internet connections that are almost entirely absent, and if not absent very expensive, in large parts of the world” (DeBruin and Floridi, 2017). 

Key Takeaway:

“To benefit genuinely from their freedom, people have to know what actions they can choose from and they have to know what the likely consequences of these various choice options are. In other words, they have to know the characteristics of their opportunities (DeBruin and Floridi, 2017) “

“Clouders need to have general knowledge about the advantages and disadvantages of cloud computing; and they need to have specific knowledge about the services they buy and use or consider buying or using” (DeBruin and Floridi, 2017).

This specific knowledge needed is not provided for users in an accessible way, which leaves users dependent on these services. The issue with the convergence of technologies all packages into one service provided by one of the large Cloud service providers – is dependence and loss of privacy, agency, and control. It is also contributing to the digital divide, in that using these services requires high speed internet connection and the ability to cover the costs of service.

Thinking through this has reminded me of the show Mr. Robot, and how computer hacking is equated with “owning” someone or some organization. Access to personal information is incredibly powerful in any setting, and companies are giving access away by trusting their information will be safe in the Cloud. In certain cases, users are unaware that their information is being stored at a third party. Additionally, if anything happens to compromise the date stored in the Cloud, the repercussions could be drastic for large companies. In any case, users of the service need to be aware of what they are agreeing to when they sign up to use a Cloud service.

References

DeBruin, Boudewijn, and Luciano Floridi. “The Ethics of Cloud Computing.” Science and Engineering Ethics, vol. 23, no. 1, 2017, pp. 21–39.
Derrick Roundtree and Ileana Castrillo. The Basics of Cloud Computing: Understanding the Fundamentals of Cloud Computing in Theory and Practice. Amsterdam; Boston: Syngress / Elsevier, 2014. Excerpts from Introduction and Chap. 2.