What the heck is ‘The Cloud’?

cloud-computing

My parents were recently in our office for some tech advice, and told me their “iCloud was full.” and wanted to know #1 how to fix it and #2 what the heck is “The Cloud”?   More on #1 later, what we’ll focus on this month is answering #2: What the heck is ‘The Cloud’?

In tech circles, the cloud is jokingly refereed to as “just someone else’s computer” and joking aside, that’s exactly what it is.  The “someone else” is important in this case, as it isn’t just some guy down the street, it’s typically a large provider who specializes in delivering software & services via the Internet.

The single biggest difference between “cloud” computing, and traditional computing is the reliance on the Internet to provide services to the client wherever they are.  Instead of being tied to physical server, housed either in house, or at a single location, cloud services are distributed across the Internet or Intranet making their product or service (hopefully) redundant and widely available.

The advantages to the cloud, versus the traditional software model are typically lower cost upfront, less or no maintenance, and ease of access for employees.

While the term cloud itself is overused and definition nebulous, there are many useful services that you probably already use that qualify as cloud services.

  1. Gmail:  We’ve long accepted email being provided via the cloud, and while Internet email predates the modern concept of cloud computing it fits the definition well.  You can access Gmail from any device, and all your “stuff” is there, stored safely online.  See also Yahoo! Mail.
  2. Office 365:  A great example of the cloud is Microsoft’s new Office 365 product, which is offered online as a subscription service.  Instead of installing Office on your local PC, Office 365 apps can be accessed from *any* PC or Internet connected device.  See also Google Apps.
  3. Dropbox:  This one is obvious, but an online locker to store your stuff, is definitely a cloud service.  See also iCloud.
  4. Backblaze:  Another obvious choice for a cloud example, Backblaze backs up your computer to “the cloud” where it’s safe from localized threats.  See also Carbonite.

If you want to get technical, the definition of cloud gets very complicated.  Where you, or your provider is “in” the cloud is also very technical and not worth the explanation.  However the concept of online software, and “thin clients” used to access this software best depicts how your average business owner interacts with the cloud.

P.S.  If your iCloud is full and Apple is nagging you the upgrade is cheap, $0.99 a month bumps you from 5GB to 50GB of space.  Eventually you should clear out and archive/backup your photos (which occupy the most space) to a PC or external drive, but storing them in Apple’s cloud is sufficient for most.