What in “the bleep” is “The Cloud” anyway?

“The cloud” is just a fancy term for the Internet. “Cloud computing takes place on the Internet. It doesn’t take place on your computer. Your computer is just used to view the result.  Most of you have used web mail like yahoo, hotmail, gmail, roadrunner, etc; so you have already been doing “cloud computing.”   See you are so leading-edge-techie and didn’t even know it!

This actually isn’t a new concept. Back in the old days it was called a client-server system. And many businesses still use this model today.  One powerful computer is the server. Servers can also be a collection of computers hooked together. The server runs all the company’s programs and stores all its data.

Connected to the server are client computers called terminals. These terminals let people access the server. Terminals are inexpensive, basic computers. All they do is access information on the server. They don’t have to process or store much.

The benefit to business is that terminals are inexpensive. You can add as many as you need at little cost. Plus, they don’t store any information. A terminal can die and you don’t lose any data.

Now with broadband Internet home computers can operate the same as businesses. The Internet acts as the server. And a home computer acts as the terminal.  Actually your electronic gadgets like smart phones, iPads, tablets and netbooks act as terminals too.

The benefits are that processing and storage are done on the Internet. That means you don’t need an expensive stand-alone computer. You just need an inexpensive gadget with a fast Internet connection.

Everything is accomplished online. When the gadget breaks, it is inexpensive to replace…well inexpensive is a relative term.   Anyway, you don’t lose any of your data and you can access your data from multiple gadgets.

So what are some examples of cloud computing? There are hundreds available. Here are a few common ones.

Besides web-based email, there are many other exciting uses.  There office programs like Google Docs and Office Web Apps that let you create, store and share documents online and you can access the documents from anywhere.

There are full graphics suites and places to upload, store and share photos.  You may have heard of iPhoto and Picasa, flicker and Snapfish.  There are video editors, audio programs and presentation creators popping up.

There are also back-up programs like Carbonite, Mozy, and idrive where you can have backups off-site and  access your data from anywhere.

Now there are gadgets like Apple TV and Google TV which both stream content from the Internet directly to your TV.

The possibilities are endless and this  is the direction most of the computer industry is headed.

Of course, there are potential drawbacks.  The first one is privacy and security. You are  entrusting your information to another party. How do you know the company isn’t going to  abuse it? Or how do you know their security procedures are adequate?  At this point, there is no easy answer. Even Facebook, with 500 million users, has security and privacy issues.

What happens when you can’t connect?  What if your Internet goes down? What if the service’s server is temporarily unavailable? How do you access your data? Unless you have a local file backed up, you’re out of luck.

These issues are being addressed and things are certainly better than they were a few years ago.  Web services used to go out of business overnight. And security procedures were really poor.

These days Web services tend to be much more stable. And most are implementing proper security.

I recommend giving cloud services a try. They can be incredibly useful for storing your data safely and sharing with friends and family. Just take into account the potential drawbacks and plan accordingly.  And if you have any questions or concerns, just let me know.

On cloud 9 with the joy of techie tools and toys,

Mardi

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