Until a few years ago, you used a software or application by running it on your own computer or server. The internet served, primarily, as a network of communication. However, this is now changing rapidly, reshaping with it, the idea and scale of a digital economy. The reason - cloud computing.

Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer resources - notably, data storage and computing services (software, analytics and networking, among others) over the internet, without direct and active management of the user. Rather than storing data and running applications on their own computer, the user reaches to the “cloud,” through which these functions are performed at remote servers.

For instance, Google offers its customers cloud-based services, which include email, word processing and storage. It hosts them on the “cloud,” that is, Google’s own server, rather than that of the user. This enables the user to perform functions like typing out a document using Google’s software in the cloud, even if their own device does not have a word processing software. Today, cloud computing is everywhere - email services, photo storing sites, online backup and file transfer applications.

With more companies investing in cloud infrastructure and shifting more of their operations and workloads to the cloud, the cloud computing market was moving on a standard growth trajectory. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, was to dramatically shake the market up. Cloud infrastructure and the digitisation of services would grow exponentially in the span of a year. Businesses would shift their operations, supply chain interactions and services to the cloud, almost overnight. According to Gartner research, spending on cloud infrastructure grew from $44 billion in 2019 to $63 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach $81 billion by 2022.

The need to develop work-from-home models and digital customer engagement channels has made the cloud foundational to future development. Many of the shifts prompted by the pandemic are expected to be permanent in nature, and investment in the cloud is only set to grow. For companies, cloud computing reduces costs of investing in servers, applications and overhead infrastructure. It eases operations, increases efficiency, flexibility and innovation, and leads to the emergence of economies of scale.

The cloud, however, also comes with its security concerns, which have become even more significant in a word going digital. When an individual’s data is on a remote server or hardware, they lose, to an extent, control over their sensitive information. The responsibility of protecting the information, then, falls into the hands of the hosting company, rather than the user. Issues like the much-publicised Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal reveal the dangers to data privacy in the world of the cloud. While laws are in force to protect user sensitive data from misuse, the conversation and legislation around technology hasn’t evolved and progressed at the same pace as the technology itself.

Another fallout of the development of cloud computing is the concentration of market share in the hands of a few companies. Large corporations like Microsoft and Amazon dominate the cloud ecosystem, making it difficult for smaller companies and start-ups to compete with their scale of infrastructure. Most of these, focused on improving sections of the cloud, are acquired by bigger players early on, with only a few notable exceptions like Snowflake, a data ware-housing company, which are able to break into the league.

One of the solutions proposed to deal with the issue of data security in cloud applications is parallel computing. Through parallel computing of data, data obtained at the source is broken up into small, compact pieces at the source. It is segregated and studied in parallel, rather than being taken to the cloud as a much larger data set.

With greater research, parallel computing could emerge as a quicker, more efficient and more secure way of dealing with data. Until then, governments must adopt a more nuanced, comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach to cloud computing and privacy concerns associated with it. In a world where the cloud is indispensable, users, lawmakers and companies must work towards a world where data security isn’t an obstacle, but an integral component to the digital economy.