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Data Lock-in (Cloud Computing)

Abstract

Cloud computing is a major element of the growth of the internet in the development of IT in the last thirty years. The most serious impediment to cloud computing is Data Lock-in. By addressing the issues it brings up such as security, the need for collaboration and economics, the world will benefit more from the technology. The solutions require cross-sector participation by service providers, users and regulators.

Introduction

There has been phenomenal growth in the Information Technology (IT) front in the last thirty years. The IT industry grew from the need to process information faster and better. The internet then followed as a means of networking several computers to enable users to share information. This has not been limited to any particular continent. It has been a worldwide phenomenon. Dalic (2007) refers to this process as “the convergence of cultures” (p.4). In recent years, internet users have developed different models for optimizing online resources. One of these optimization models is Cloud Computing. It enables users in a network to share computing resources for storage and processing functions. It refers to the pooling together of IT infrastructure to reduce the need to develop highly specialized consumer units.

There are several incentives for the widespread adoption of Cloud Computing. A stand-alone computer requires several functions to fulfill its user’s needs. It must have programs, storage facilities, processing capacity and communication capabilities. In Cloud Computing, there is an opportunity to “outsource” some of these functions. (Velte et al., 2009) state, “With Cloud Computing, other companies host your applications”. The network under Cloud Computing will have simple computer terminals serving as the interface with the cloud. A user will have access to all programs, increased storage, and processing capacity located in a remote server. It will make the development of a network very cost-effective since the user terminals will not have to be expensive autonomous data processing units, but simple network access devices. Optimization of centralized functions such as storage of data and access to programs will produce the best results. A Cloud Computing network displays “strong interrelationships and dependencies among its different parts” (Nardi & O’Day, 1999). It is possible to install greater capacity for storage and processing for a network at a lower cost compared to the cost of providing optimal storage and processing in a stand-alone device.

This paper explores various issues regarding Cloud Computing. It provides a basis for a coherent strategy for the widespread of Cloud Computing based on the premise that strategy is about the acquisition and deployment of resources for the best results (Harvard Business School, 2005). It examines the history and state of development of Cloud Computing. It identifies Data Lock-in as the most serious threat to Cloud Computing and proposes several options for dealing with this threat, in order to take advantage of the possibilities that Cloud Computing presents.

Cloud Computing history and concept

In the technological growth cycle, all new inventions go through some stages in their life cycle. Among them is a period of widespread acceptance among users and thereafter, the providers seek economies of scale. Cloud Computing is a logical stage of development of the internet. Cloud Computing seeks to harness the advantages of economies of scale in data processing and storage. As the internet has grown, the possibility of pooling processing and storage has become feasible. With the emergence of global players in the internet market, there is an elaborate expression of the economic case for Cloud Computing.

The concept of Cloud Computing is analogous to the provision of utility service in a modern city. In cities and human settlements, the community uses common water and sewerage services, power, and gas supplies. The cost of providing these services per household reduces with the increase in the number of households served. It is cheaper for the local authorities to offer water and sewerage services than what it would cost each household to provide a similar service for itself. Cloud Computing seeks to pool the data processing and storage functions, among other IT services, to optimize them and to reduce the cost of the service per client. The configuration used involves having a number of access points, which provide an interface between the user and the cloud. This access point is a computer whose processing functions and data storage is offsite. The service provider remains responsible for “performing all tasks that are related to cloud management, such as model development, updates, storage, and retrieval” (Zopounidis & Doumpos, 2011). The pooling of computing resources makes it possible to provide users with all the processing capacity that normally lays idle in PCs when the user is offline.

Current and Future Applications

Currently, the leaders in Cloud Computing are web service providers. The concept has not developed to its full potential. Currently, there are applications based on the Cloud Computing concept. Web services that have illustrated the concept include Wikipedia and Google. Wikipedia provides a platform for knowledge sharing and research collaboration. As a wiki, it allows for collaborative development of web content where a user can edit the site at will (Ebersbach, Glaser, Heigl, & Warta, 2008). It hosts the servers that run the platform and provides easy-to-use features on its website. It does not require any program download. A user simply logs in and creates or shares the information they have. Google’s search engine on the other hand also provides for a centralized search function that allows a user to find anything they need on the internet. The Google search engine uses certain algorithms and applies keywords to provide a user with a search result.

In the future, there are interesting possibilities for Cloud Computing. There is an increase in the number of web access points. Chief among them is the mobile phone. In some markets especially in the developing world, there is larger internet access via mobile phones compared to computers. The enablement of such devices to access the internet will define the future of Cloud Computing. Hill Associates (2002) states, “telecommunications technology perhaps more than any other technology continually shapes the very fabric of our global society”. In addition, the increasing nature of software compatibility and simplification of data processing will increase the uptake of Cloud Computing. Generally, the price of the technology has fallen over time. This means that it will become easier over time to build the infrastructure required for Cloud Computing.

Top Ten Problems

There are several problems with Cloud Computing. It is important to appreciate the issues that surround Cloud computing in the development of a consistent strategy to promote it. Robert, (2005) stated, “For a strategy to be successful, it must be consistent with the firm’s external environment – its goals and values, resources and capabilities, and structure and systems” (p.14). When discussing Cloud computing, Antonopoulos and Gillam (2010) quote Armbrust M who listed the top ten hindrances to cloud computing as, “availability of service, Data Lock-in, data confidentiality and auditability, data transfer bottlenecks, performance unpredictability, scalable storage, bugs in large-scale distributed systems, scaling quickly, reputation fate sharing, and software licensing”. Among them, Data Lock-in is internally generated and stands out as the most significant one.

Data Lock-in

Data Lock-in happens when a web-based service provider makes it a business goal to deter users of their services from shifting to other service providers. The method used is making it difficult for a client to move from one service provider to another by methods that make data transfer cumbersome and risky for a user. Many internet users put their data into web- based platforms, which require that information to provide the service. This information includes personal details, photos, personal files, and user generated data. The relationship with the web based services firm may include downloadable elements such as software and cookies that are necessary for the operation of the service. Service providers using Data Lock-in strategies produce programs such that they interfere with similar programs from rivals.

For the purposes of this paper, the scope of Data Lock-in considered includes all deliberate and incidental instances that reduce, deter, or interfere with the convenient usage of a rivals web services. The basis for the choice of this scope is that whether the effort is deliberate or not, it contributes to the problem. The means of dealing with each type of problem may vary, but they form part of the basic problem.

Compared to most other problems associated to Cloud Computing, Data Lock-in ranks highest for several reasons. The first reason is that it impinges on the freedom of an internet user to choose where to get their services. This goes against the unwritten cardinal rule of the internet, which is the promotion of freedoms of expression and association. Secondly, it reduces the user comfort when using the internet, which may influence the degree of uptake of the internet. This will rob the world of the development prospects the internet promises. The third reason why Data Lock-in is a serious concern is that it may rob a user of their entire web legacy (Fitzpatrick & Lueck, 2010). The terms of use notwithstanding, some internet users invest a lot of time in creating an online identity and loss of this history may prove to be devastating.

History of the Data Lock-in

Data Lock-in is as old as the internet itself. When the internet was still under military control in the US, Data Lock-in happened for security reasons. The military shared files within various departments that used the internet to share information and intelligence. Because of the sensitivity of the operations, it was necessary to ensure that all systems remained secure and free from external interference. These efforts seemed to set up the foundation for Data Lock-in. As the internet began to permeate government institutions and eventually the general-public, firewalls came up to protect various data sets from external unwarranted access.

With the free internet era of the nineties, commercialization of services took place. Firms began to offer online support and carried out online marketing for the first time using the internet. Educational institutions also took up the use of the internet on a wider scale to enable research, collaboration, and teaching. Closed sites requiring logging in became the norm. As email service providers started becoming popular, they limited their services to registered users, further cementing the foundations of Data Lock-in. Services such as hotmail, required users to register before accessing their free email services. Some of these elements remain to date.

In the last ten years, Data Lock-in has taken both directions of the argument. Some web based service providers such as Google advocate for complete internet freedom. They compete on innovation and they actually make using their services easier. They do not require users to register or download any programs to access and use their search engine. They also make it easy for people to leave their services. For instance, it is very easy to move from Gmail, which is “the Google approach to email” (Google, 2011) to AOL-Mail because they make transfer of content from their E-mail service to rival companies easy. On the other hand, many educational institutions have locked-in their faculty and students thereby limiting research and collaboration. They provide special permissions to access their information databases. Their reasons include preventing copyright breaches and data security.

Consequences of Data Lock-in

Because of Data Lock-in, users now experience several consequences. Some of them are positive, while others are negative. On the positive side, users who require data security feel secure to continue using certain web based services because they know third parties cannot get easy access to their data because the service provider practices Data Lock-in. A second consequence of Data Lock-in is that it makes the operation of web-based services expensive for the service provider. The service provider must commit resources to building and maintaining firewalls and other Data Lock-in support infrastructure, taking away valuable resources from R&D. This results in poorer services over time because the company does not entirely focus on improving its services to compete on quality, but channels its resources to make it difficult for clients to leave.

Another limitation with Data Lock-in is that it limits research and collaboration among institutions because web-based for researchers limit the formats and access points in their services. This is especially true for institutions of higher learning. They limit access to research papers and journals. If that information cannot reach other researchers in the world, it means that each institution will generate its own research data thereby wasting precious time and financial resources on duplicate research.

Google argues that Data Lock-in also makes client loose trust in the service provider (Fitzpatrick & Lueck, 2010). The company says that using the counter intuitive approach of making it easier for clients to leave their service actually makes it desirable for them to stay because they feel they can move at any time without any negative consequences or cumbersome procedures. Therefore, we conclude that Data Lock-in reduces trust between users and the web service provider. Retaining clients by using Data Lock-in makes them apprehensive about leaving your services later. Therefore, they choose to keep off from the start.

Potential Solutions

To promote the use of the internet and to make the potential benefits of the internet available to all users, there is need to evaluate potential solutions to Data Lock- in to encourage Cloud Computing at enhanced levels.

The first solution to decrease the spread of Data Lock-in is the development of cloud software that is compatible to those found in PC’s. If the cloud does not require special software for access, it means more users will access the cloud resources with lesser hassles. This is a solution at the infrastructural level, which requires other measures to make Cloud Computing a rampant reality.

The chief concern for Cloud Computing is security. It opens up the shared resources to hackers and cyber attack. This means that to allow greater sharing of internet infrastructure and materials, online security will require enhancement to eliminate the risk of cyber attacks. One of the approaches that may help in this venture is the use of systems that limit access to program files but allows access to all their functionality. This way, the end users will only be able to access stored files and the clouds processing capacity, but not its operational infrastructure. Concentrating on securing a cloud is cheaper than the security efforts put to protect individual PC’s.

The third option for increasing cloud use and adaptation is the use of open-access software development platforms. This measure may not be popular with commercial software development companies. However, the continued use of commercial software will limit the uptake of Cloud Computing to ecologies that have the resources to deploy the commercial software at cloud level. This measure will play a significant role in increasing the uptake of Cloud Computing, and will make the possibilities of Cloud Computing a reality.

Opportunities from Cloud Computing

There are several advantages to solving the problems associated with Cloud Computing. Cost reduction is one of the major ones. Since Cloud Computing makes it possible for different users to share resources, it reduces the number of individual units of that resource that the individual users in the cloud need. With cost reduction, internet uptake will increase, thereby spreading access to needy sectors of the globe.

The next opportunity that Cloud Computing provides is scalability. Once a cloud is up and running, there is an enhanced opportunity for the cloud’s integration with other cloud-based systems, and theoretically, the cloud can spread internet-wide. In addition, the processing capacity and storage function of a cloud do not have to be under a particular boundary. The storage capacity for instance can take on inter-cloud proportions such that a particular storage unit serves several clouds of users. Already there are many internet storage sites such as Mozy.com, which illustrate the opportunity for internet-wide storage.

Security will remain a chief concern for Cloud Computing. With the advent of all manner of cyber threats such as malware, viruses, Trojans and others, every internet user using windows based platforms feels insecure when online. The advantage that Cloud Computing will offer is that the security and maintenance functions will benefit from pooled resources. The system will have better workers to take care of it because of pooled resources as compared to all the personal expenses individual users incur when they acquire security and maintenance services for their PC’s.

The final advantage here is the securing of the web legacy of internet users. Some users put in a lot of information on certain web-based services such as blogging sites and social networking cites. Over a period of a few years, there is significant risk of losing one’s entire web legacy if the web based service provider collapses. Cloud Computing reduces this risk. All users would like to have a way of recovering their information in manner that is “accurate, relevant, and complete” (Power, 2002)

Conclusion

The following measures hold the key to increasing the uptake of Cloud Computing. They will provide the industry with a “coherent sense of direction” (Wall, 2004, p.4).

Encourage open access

The first measure that will increase the uptake of Cloud Computing and reduce Data Lock-in by web-based service providers is the encouragement of open access protocols. With open access, the users will know that what they produce will be available to others, but also that they will have access to the work of other users in the cloud. Open access is the true spirit of the internet, and hence encouraging it will encourage the growth of the internet.

Encourage service providers to make it easy for users to move across services

The second way to encourage the uptake of Cloud Computing is to encourage the users to demand the capacity to move as easily as possible from one service provider to another. When users make demands on service providers, the providers normally try to meet these demands to remain competitive. This makes it important to users of web-based services to exert pressure on the web-based services providers to provide them with the ease to move at will. This will work in two ways. It will increase the trust between the user and the providers, and it will help the users to backup all their information in case the service rolls up.

Internet security

The third requirement on web-based service providers is the provision of data security. This is not their role alone. It calls for industry wide collaboration between web-based service providers, and regulators to protect the IT infrastructure. With better security, the operational costs for the service providers will fall, and they will pass on the benefits to the consumer. In addition, it will reduce their fears because open systems attract all manner of people, some with ill intent.

Economic incentives for non Data Lock-in firms

The fourth way to reduce data lock in is by providing economic incentives to service providers who choose to avoid Data Lock-in strategies in their operations. The regulators may offer tax breaks and reduce charges on the providers to encourage them to reduce Data Lock-in. Since, “businesses units and corporations must compete globally”, the full impact of this strategy will become known only after the implementation of a global effort to curb Data Lock-in (Montgomery & Porter, 1991).

In the end analysis, it is clear that many opportunities for financial savings and the improvement of services abound with the uptake of Cloud Computing. By addressing the barriers, chief of which is Data Lock-in, it will be possible to harness the benefits that cloud computing promises. It is a very sensible way of increasing computing power and storage without a proportional increase in the set-up costs.

Reference List

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Dalic, T., 2007. Globalisation of Marketing Strategies in Light of Segmentation and Cultural Diversity. Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag.

Ebersbach, A., Glaser, M., Heigl, R. & Warta, A., 2008. Wiki: Web Collection. Berlin: Springer.

Fitzpatrick, B.W. & Lueck, J.J., 2010. Acmqueue. Web.

Google, 2011. Gmail. Web.

Harvard Business School, 2005. Strategy: Create and Implement the Best Strategy for Your Business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Hill Associates, 2002. Telecommunications: A Beginners Guide. Berkeley: McGraw-Hill/Osborne.

Montgomery, C.A. & Porter, M.E., eds., 1991. Strategy: Seeking and Securing Competitive Advantage. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Division.

Nardi, B.A. & O’Day, V.L., 1999. Information Ecologies. First Monday: Peer Reviwed Journal on the Internet, IV(5).

Power, D.J., 2002. Decision Support Systems: Concepts and Resources for Managers. Westport CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Robert, M.G., 2005. Contemporary Strategy Analysis. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Velte, t., Velte, A., Velte, T.J. & Elsenpeter, R.C., 2009. Cloud Computing: A Practical Approach. Illustrated ed. New York: McGraw Hill professional.

Wall, S.J., 2004. On the Fly: Executing Strategy in a Changing World. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

Zopounidis, C. & Doumpos, M., 2011. Decision Support Systems. Web.

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