Cloud Computing gained its due popularity in the first decade of 21st century when top IT corporations like Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Google started offering enterprise applications over the internet. Salesforce, however, had introduced the concept of delivering enterprise applications via the internet back in 1999. Cloud computing might look like a modern computing practice, however, the fundamental idea behind it is in fact a journey back in time. Forget about PCs at home, computers were very expensive equipment’s even for organizations back in 1970s and employees were provided with dumb terminals with no processing capability on a “time sharing” system, where a server will provide its processing power to different tasks requested by different users (terminals) on a time sharing basis. All tasks ran virtually simultaneously much like today’s cloud computing environment where cloud servers deliver the more or less experience among several users.
Despite the common roots in fundamental idea, current model of cloud computing has entirely different approach and objectives than time sharing systems in the past. Today, dumb terminals have been replaced by powerful computers. Smartphones are challenging processing power of PCs and PCs are more powerful than ever, so the processing capability is not a question. Then what cloud computing would mean to an already powerful PC or a smartphone? The answer lies in the present scenarios of application development; investment that infrastructure required to run the application; and complexities related with deployment and further maintenance of the application.
In 1990s, application vendors had responsibility to deploy and maintain application at the client locations, hardware and infrastructure were either managed by the client or the vendor on mutual agreement. Application vendors had professionals who would physically go to the client location and troubleshoot any issues with the application. This model worked fine till the dependency over information technology was limited, once it grew, serving clients, deploying and maintaining applications with this model became complex and expensive. On the other hand, serving overseas client without local workforce was impossible with this model. Globalization and internet were spreading their wings at the same time. All these factors paved the way for cloud computing.
Cloud computing: service models
Cloud computing is a very broad concept and when you decide to go for it, you have to choose a service model. Choice of service model depends on various factors like what level of customization and reach you want on cloud servers. If you need virtual infrastructure to install your own OS, development environments, tools, network capabilities on your virtual cloud server, IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) will be a good deal for you, but if you want a hassle free final software screen to work on, SaaS (Software as a Service) is the way. For example: If a user needs word processor and spreadsheet programs over the cloud, so that he or she can access documents and sheets from any device, will make SaaS (Software as a Service) suit him or her the best. You don’t have to worry about hardware, operating system, technicalities and maintenance. Your word processor and spreadsheet is available to your as long as you have access to the internet. You pay only for what you get, you don’t have to pay for infrastructure of platform used. Cloud computing mostly work on subscription based Pay As You Go model. You don’t have to look for buyers of your hardware if you are going to wrap-up your business, you can just backup your data and end the subscription.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS):
This service model is most suited for people and organizations that need complete virtual access to the cloud server to customise it as per their needs. It is much like renting a local server and accessing it remotely, you can do pretty much everything you can do on a local server, except accessing it physically. You get processing power of cloud servers, virtual machines, storage, customization, scalability, load balancers, networking capabilities, etc., as good as in-house servers. Users can lunch virtual machines on-demand from the standard as well as user defined images. This level of customization is required when entire infrastructure is considered to be taken on cloud. Most top cloud computing service providers offer IaaS, which is leveraged by several clients around the globe. IaaS clients have the most control out of the three service models and can develop their own PaaS and SaaS layers on top of IaaS. Windows Azure, Amazon EC2, Google Compute Engine, etc. are some of the examples of IaaS offerings.
Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google and Salesforce are among top players of cloud infrastructure service providers.
Platform as a service (PaaS):
As the name indicates, this service model provides platform as a cloud service. Users have options to deploy runtime environments, tools, databases, web servers, etc. Having a physical server ready to deploy your IDE, database or webserver is a good analogy of PaaS. Users don’t get as much as capabilities provided with IaaS as they don’t need it, for example AWS Elastic Beanstalk provides capability for deploying and scaling web applications and services on servers such as Apache, Nginx, Passenger, and IIS. Users don’t have to worry about infrastructure part that runs the platform. Google App Engine, Windows Azure, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, etc. are some of the examples of PaaS.
Software as a service (SaaS):
An offline analogy with SaaS would go like this: You tell your home PC service guy that you need a presentation creator in your PC. You pay for it and he installs and sets it up for you. In this case, he saved you from the complexity of buying the software, installing it, compatibility and configuration issues with the software, etc. SaaS is also like on-demand software service over the internet. You get the application without worrying about its installation, platform, configuration and infrastructure. Google web apps are a good example of SaaS in which you get a suite of online application, which you can select depending on your needs.
Cloud computing has made it possible for users to focus on their core business aspects rather than its technological implementation. This results in productivity gains and eventually profit. All development, deployment, maintenance is taken care at cloud server end and user gets what is important to him or her. Cloud computing has also made it possible to afford what could have otherwise been an expensive deal for consumers. For example: Google offers 15GB of free storage with its Google account along with many other applications like Email, Word Processor, Spreadsheet, with several other add-on apps. Economics of scale and delivery of adverts to its free users compensate free offerings. Google search; despite consuming a lot of resources, power and operational cost of huge data centers; has always been free. This is made possible with cloud computing and revenue model.
Biometrics and BaaS “biometric as a service”
Adoption of biometrics for various applications has grown exponentially over the last decade. Private organizations as well as government outfits are leveraging biometrics for applications like access control, security, attendance, time keeping, verification, etc. Many countries around the world have taken up biometrics as national ID of citizens. Biometrics leverage imaging, computing, statistical and mathematical methods to map physiological or behavioral characteristics of an individual. These physiological and behavioral characteristics are believed to unique due to the huge number of possible variations. For example, in a fingerprint recognition system, recognition algorithm maps fingerprints by identifying unique points, these unique points are believed to be unique due to variation in their pattern and location. The recognition system generates a biometric template after taking the fingerprint through the algorithm, and identity data of that person is associated with this template. This establishes the identity of the individual in a biometric database, which can be verified in the future when required.
Biometrics have proved to be more efficient, faster and securer than traditional identification practices like ID cards, access cards, PINs and passwords, which are either possession based or knowledge based authentication factors. Biometrics, being an inherence based factor, eliminate possibility to forget or share passwords and loss or theft of ID/access cards. Implementing multimodal biometrics or multi-factor authentication with biometrics as one of the essential factors provides even greater security, which is a common requirement in high security facilities like military setups, data centers, nuclear reactors, R&D facilities, etc. The rise of biometrics and growing adoption rate of biometric recognition systems in all sectors in verity of applications has paved the way to a huge commercial market for devices and solutions. Modern biometric systems have ability to connect to information systems and the network. They can share data with a remote server with centralize biometric database over the internet. This ability makes biometrics to be offered as a service over the internet.
For a service provider, offering biometrics as a cloud service would require biometric databases on virtual servers, networking capabilities, storage, and capability to run identification and verification transactions of biometric requests. This is more or less same setup as any traditional cloud service, however, at the client-end; biometric scanners (e.g. Fingerprint, iris scanners, vascular scanners, etc.) would be a necessary requirement. In case of enrollment of a tenant (user), his or her biometrics will be scanned and will be associated with the identity data and stored in biometric database on the cloud server. For authentication, a user will present his biometrics for a scan and they system will automatically send a verification request to the cloud server, which would return a match or no-match and user is granted access or denied it as the case may be.
- Quick integration and deployment
- Affordable: No need to lay in-house infrastructure
- Biometrics on demand
- Scalability: Easy to introduce new application or shrink current ones
- Economy of scale is set to further reduce subscription cost
- Being on cloud makes it accessible from anywhere in the world
- Securer due to biometric database being on cloud
- Easy to implement at any endpoint on the network
Biometric fingerprint and iris scanners making their way to more and more mobile devices open doors for new possibilities. According to an estimate by Frost and Sullivan, market revenue for fingerprint authentication on mobile devices is to increase from US$52.6 million in 2013 to US$396 million in 2019. Authentication with BaaS on mobile devices can safeguard crucial operations like banking transaction, authorization of payments, e-commerce transaction, etc. In banks, scalability is an important aspect to take care of. Launch of new branches, installation of ATMs, etc. are a part of on-going banking operations. Biometrics as a cloud service can benefit scalability intensive industries. New ATM with biometric capabilities will not only be securer than traditional card and PIN based authentication, but also be easy to deploy with cloud biometrics.
Now with cloud computing, organizations just go renting servers, processing power, storage, etc. on a subscription basis, rather than buying and maintaining expensive in-house resources. It gives them a chance to save money as well space that in-house infrastructure could have occupied. Cloud computing makes it possible to deliver what is important to user, without entangling him or her into its technical implementation. Cloud service providers take all the burden of technical and implementation complexity so that users can concentrate at their core business. Saved time from technical complexities of in-house resources results in improved productivity. Cloud servers serve millions of users across the globe, saving users from upfront investment in infrastructure or applications. With cloud computing, data backup also goes on auto-pilot mode, keeping user data safe on cloud servers.
Biometrics is the science of identifying a person with his biological characteristics, rather than identifying a piece of information or a plastic card. Tradition identity and access management methods have had its time, just like tradition mode of computing. Now when even small organizations are taking up some portion of cloud computing services to address inadequacy of resources; considering biometrics as a service makes a perfect sense. If we look at the adoption rate, BaaS is still in its infancy but as the awareness and adoption rate grow, biometrics as a cloud service is also set to be benefited by economy of scale.