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The Birth of Cloud Technologies. A Long Way from the Text to Multimedia

September 19, 2013
Alina Krukova

Alina Krukova

Categories: Reviews

How to organize a video conference? As for the modern man, changes in all aspects of life have become the norm, especially in the field of IT. Nowadays the Internet is being modified for the fourth time in last 40-50 years. A new, interactive face of computer communication is being born. And an important role here is played by multimedia technologies, and in many ways by the cloud ones. You don’t believe it? Judge for yourself!

Since its birth, the Internet has passed a long way from a purely textual mode of communication to the realm of multimedia technologies. Old protocols that came down to us from the early 1970s — mail and ftp — did not have any built-in interface for the transmission of binary files (including images). The emergence of WWW, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and tools, able to handle the relevant constructions — web-pages. HTTP servers and browsers allowed to embed images in HTML, and later — the sound and video. The emergence of Skype and webinars have given the worldwide web an opportunity to move to the familiar to us third stage of development, multimedia and interactive: with 3G and Wi-Fi access, built-in webcams, video chat in Google, “share to web” in the camera or phone and a YouTube channel on TV/IPTV.

Shifting the gravity center of executable programs to the server allowed to relieve the client’s hardware. That’s how the “one-to-any” principle of communication was replaced by “all-to-any” principle. Which is very significant for multimedia technologies in general, and for the cloud — in particular.

It is still early to talk about “cloud era”, first the appropriate standards and principles of data exchange must be established. Text commands should be replaced by if not voice ones, then at least some common commands of management and response for all the multi-media streams.

Technical Components or “Ingredients for Success”

Let’s try to peep on “the day after tomorrow” of cloud-based videoconferencing and imagine what should the technologies of nearest future be. On the one hand, they have to keep the focus on the client-server communication: a lot of good stuff was born by client-server technologies, at least in context of secure corporate solutions. The client application must be able to transfer a full-fledged multimedia content and at the same time to receive another one, synchronized with the time of a transfer. This means that the client’s hardware, along with communication channels have to become more powerful. All the necessary components for that already exist today, you only need to integrate them together and achieve a “transformation of quantity into quality.”

On the “server side”, we’ll need not only the “cloud”, but “cloud, smeared between the servers”, perhaps similar to modern torrent-networks, as opposed to large enterprise solutions such as Google: in the case of using torrent-like networks, the request processing is performed by any available resource that can handle it, thus the performance of each element of the exchange increases severely, but the work load of each of the torrent network participants will not increase much.

At the same time, technologies for the corporate and mass user should be different. Many large corporations have a strong tradition of “no intruders allowed inside the local network, all the resources available for the public are submitted to demilitary zone».

Obviously, “logins and passwords” thing will vanish in the past: If now any user is identified by the computer through the “text label» — login when you log into a computer, e-mail for access to mail, etc., and the password simply confirms that on the other side of the screen is exactly the user who he claims to be, there is an identifier that is way more natural for videoconferencing system — not the username, but the face, which is much more unique than a username or a nickname, as well as the voice that helps us to identify the person in real life.

On the other hand, with a qualitative change of communication channels (the transition to media content orientation, rather than text one), it is obvious that the amount of transferred and processed data will be multiplied. Chances are, that the changes will affect even such familiar things as digital communication protocols. And we cannot even try to guess what they will be and the usual TCP/IP be able to stand its ground.

Informational Security of a Newborn Videoconferencing System

The problem of security associated with the method of access to the resource runs into the problem of financing: the better the communication channel, the more checks and protections he will “get on” with, but the problem of practicability often leads to the use of text encryptions and protocols, which, frankly speaking, have holes inside. This is a purely technological threat that exists and will be, it does not depend on the service or the place of its location. If the protocol is “full of holes and vulnerable,” then it is vulnerable in the cloud, and in the corporate network, and during the personal use too.

An important role is played by the question of user comfort. The complexity of full-scale integration of videoconferencing systems forces integrators and specialists to carry videoconferencing systems out of a secure perimeter even in the protected corporate networks. Many of us are familiar with Mr. Moore’s (head of security at Rapid7) famous experiment, in which he decided to “test the mettle” out of the security of a number of companies, and with the help of a cable network could look into offices, conference rooms and meeting rooms of over a dozen of companies. The emergence of “holes” in the security system was caused by people’s negligence, who have left the auto answer and automatic video broadcasting features enabled despite the fact that they knew that videoconferencing system was outside the secure perimeter.

A similar situation occurs with users of cloud videoconferencing systems. When the client application starts to “slow down”, a user often closes unnecessary applications: disables the anti-virus and data encryption.

In contrast to the corporate networks in which there are “trusted connections from the local network”, there is no local network in “clouds”, that is why all connections in the system are untrusted. The moment you connect to a cloud server, there may also be a trespasser hacking the administrator access, and after — and all the users on the server.

Cloud service is always collective, and the vulnerability of a single user could spread on the rest. For example, if in a video conference via the cloud 5 people are involved, 2 of them are using super-protected channel, 2 use normal one, and one — very weak and completely without protection (say, he uses phone 3G), then “very weak and very without protection” attribute is suitable for all five participants. That is, any user of the cloud can be recommended to choose their friends carefully, even the pen-friends. In some ways, cloud services are like “a revolving door”, and in order to avoid unpleasant consequences, until authorization is not made with face and speech recognition, but a login-password-encryption key, feel free to change them more often.


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