We all know that computers have gotten faster and better. Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore observed in 1965 that computing power would double every two years for the following two decades. Incredibly, this statistic has held true more than half a century later. But there’s been another, equally significant computer revolution happening at the same time. A revolution that is democratizing the information that this exponential growth in computing has brought us: the cloud.
In the simplest of terms, cloud computing lets companies and individuals send their data to be stored and processed by vast arrays of compute and storage capacity. But it is so much more.
The cloud has changed how we think about and navigate the world
The cloud has had a profound effect on our lives — it is a tool that is helping us cure diseases, explore new worlds (both literal and virtual), and keep the internet safe. Cloud computing isn’t about cheap computation power, it’s about giving every young company and every researcher access to some of the biggest and fastest computers on the planet to solve many of the world’s seemingly intractable problems.
Just a mere a decade ago, I worked at IronPort, a cybersecurity company that worked on stopping spam and malware. It was a great mission, but progress was constantly slowed by diversion of our time and resources to process vast amounts of attack data; we were, in essence, running a server and a storage company at the same time. It was almost like opening a supermarket by building a railroad, a truck company, and a huge collection of warehouses first (or in my case at IronPort, simultaneously). The cloud changed all of this.
Putting the power of the cloud into perspective
To actually understand the impact the cloud is having on computing power, let’s take a look at research in the field of genetics. Seventeen years ago, the company Celera had to buy four 7,000 processor supercomputers at a cost of $360,000 each to crunch the DNA sequence of just one person. Even that took years. Celera had to not only be a DNA company, they had to be a computer company. They actually bought a processor company at one point.
Today at Stanford, a group of scientists is building a genetic database of 1 million veterans and then tracking them over their lives in hopes of changing medicine as we know it. Stanford’s project is a million times larger than Celera’s, and yet they’re able to do it cheaper and more efficiently.
“From our point of view, it’s almost infinite resources. A single user can boot up 5,000 machines,” the director of the Stanford project Mike Snyder said.
But the cloud’s capabilities don’t end at science and research, the cloud has completely changed the way we do business, live our lives. You’re carrying a slice of the cloud in your pocket right now! The most popular apps use cloud computing to do amazing things that your phone could never do on its own.
Netflix, for instance, sends about 13,000 years worth of programming every day to its customers. And as you might guess, people tend to watch movies at the same time: late at night, after dinner, or on the weekends, which means the company has to deal with and plan for colossal peaks and valleys. By using the cloud, the company can spin up extra bandwidth when it needs to, eliminating the need for giant computer systems that lie dormant 90% of the time. And interestingly enough, the company uses Amazon Web Services as their cloud platform, in essence making their biggest competitor also their most important partner. This relationship perfectly illustrates the true democracy and collaboration of the cloud.
How Area 1 Security is using the cloud to make the web a safer place
Where I am now, at Area 1 Security, we take advantage of this vast pool of processing power with Google’s Cloud Platform. With the cloud, we can be nimble and focus on our strong suit, which is writing great software to stop phishing attacks before they happen. We get to be an anti-phishing company and focus solely on protecting our customers.
Security is a big data problem. While it might take just one or two computers to launch an attack, it takes reams of computation power to find them — and even more to stop them. That has always given attackers a huge advantage. But with the cloud, that asymmetry vanishes.
Just like Google crawls the web to power its search engine, Area 1 Security crawls the web to proactively find phishing threats. It’s a massive undertaking; it’s a bit like taking the whole digital world and shoving it into a bottle to be analyzed every couple of days.
As the Area 1 case study by Google states:
“Area 1 Security’s total attack data warehouse is approximately 2.5 petabytes, including a quarter of a trillion attack metadata records. Additionally, the company’s service needs to analyze over 3 billion events every day.”
Without the cloud, attackers would always be ahead. With the cloud, we finally have the processing power to act before attacks. The cloud helps us store gigantic amounts of data, but the analytics of how to process it and what to do with it — that comes from us. We can focus on what we’re good at — creating small patterns to uncover and stop phishing attacks — and we can do so without building and running our own infrastructure.
We’re not a computer company, we’re a security company. And we have the cloud to thank for that.
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