What is the Cloud and Cloud computing?

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What is the Cloud and Cloud computing?

It’s a question I keep getting asked; “What is the cloud?”. It’s like someone asking me what irony means. I know what it is, but explaining it seems to always be difficult.

In this post I will not go into detail. I will just explain a brief overview of what the cloud is and some interesting pros/cons. By the end of the article you should have a better understanding of what the cloud is than when you started.

Cloud and Cloud computing

Before the term cloud came along, people in boardroom meetings used a picture of a cloud to represent the servers and network infrastructure that make up the Internet. So the cloud became a simple way to represent Internet, without getting into all the detail.

Traditionally you bought programs for a PC and ran it only on that PC. The Internet, or Cloud, was only where you looked for and downloaded information of interest to you.

It was actually in the 60’s when computer scientists first imagined a world where you could use the same program with the same data on any device in the world at any time. J.C.R. Licklider, a computer scientist in the 60’s, called this concept an Intergalactic Computer Network. I think his name for it is a lot cooler than Cloud computing, but PR people will probably disagree with me.

So Cloud computing is about using the same program with the same data anywhere from any device at any time. This is one reason Cloud computing is so hard to explain, because any program you use can become part of the Cloud (Internet) and be Cloud computing.

A simple example is Google Docs. Traditionally everyone had a program on their PC like Office. This meant they could use this program on their PC and store the data on their PC. But you could only access this program and this data on the one device. Google Docs lets you use the program on the Cloud (Internet) anywhere, anytime and on any device. It also lets you store and access the data on the Cloud (Internet) anywhere, anytime and any device.

So when someone asks you now, you should be able to give a simple definition and an example.

Is my stuff safe on the Cloud?

This is probably the biggest con of the Cloud. Your stuff is only as safe as the company who runs the Cloud makes it. Remember how the Cloud represents servers. Well that means your data is on one, but more likely several, servers around the globe. You might think “oh they are a huge company so they must have the best security”. Several companies like Sony have had major leaks of individuals’ personal data. Security costs money and often higher levels of management don’t see the return on investment. So they do the minimum required.

Make sure to do research if you store highly sensitive information on the Cloud. Often companies will perform security audits on Cloud computing companies before using their software. A good rule of thumb is to use Cloud computing companies that corporations use. That way you know they are up to scratch. An example is Office 365 which thousands of corporations use.

Another con is in the details. If it’s free you are probably the product, not the customer. A good example is Facebook. You use it to store and share all your photos (Cloud computing accesses programs or data anywhere, anytime and any device). As described in the terms and conditions they then are allowed to use the data as they wish. With Facebook, they sell your information to other companies. So don’t put embarrassing photos on these Clouds, oh wait we already do.

Now the pros are pretty obvious, it’s why you are already using the Cloud. So I will just list them.

Convenience
You can access your data or programs anywhere, anytime and on any device. We have shown we are willing to give up security and privacy to achieve this. Gone are the days where you have to call your friend and get them to come to your house to do/see something.

Time
The programs are setup for you in the cloud. All you have to do is register and then login. Gone are the days of spending hours installing software on your PC.

Money
As a result you don’t need to buy multiple copies of the same program for multiple devices. In most cases you pay a small subscription fee instead.

Collaboration
Being able to use a program or access data anywhere, anytime and any device allows people to work on the same thing at the same time from anywhere. This is incredibly powerful. Before you had to organize a time for people to meet in order to work together. Now you can give people access to something using cloud computing and that’s it. They can now work together to complete a task.

The Clouds are our friends

In summary the Cloud represents the Internet. Cloud computing is about using the same program with the same data anywhere from any device at any time. If you think the cons outweigh the pros and you don’t like the idea, you are too late. Everyone has already decided that the Clouds are indeed our friends and are here to stay. They will make our lives easier. I for one welcome our new Cloud overlords.

I hope you learnt something new and enjoyed my post. Thank you for reading.

References:

Pictures from Michelle Lin, http://mashable.com, http://au.pcmag.com, http://gizmodo.com, http://www.gcflearnfree.org, http://www.computerweekly.com, http://www.thoughtsoncloud.com

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