The cloud. It's a term that's been floating around (forgive the pun) in the technology arena for a few years now, but it's being talked about more and more now. So, what exactly is "the cloud" and "cloud computing?"
Chances are, if you use a computer and the Internet, you've had some interaction with cloud computing without even realizing it. Let me tell why the cloud is pretty awesome.
Before the advent of the Internet, or even before it became as ubiquitous as it is now, most computing tasks were done "locally." Locally, meaning that computation, running programs and storing data was typically done on devices physically attached to your computer. Or the computer itself.
For example, if you wanted to write a text document or edit a photograph, you needed to physically install a piece of software like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop on your computer to accomplish these tasks. Let's say you wanted to store a bunch of music files or backup the data on your computer, you probably went to the store and bought an external hard drive device and plugged it into your computer.
However, nowadays, thanks to the Internet, and all the powerful computers and massive storage devices connected to it, many of these "local" tasks can now be done "in the cloud;" that is done using services provided over the Internet and not locally on your computer. The cloud is not a singular thing. It's not run by one company. It's simply an abstract term for the large infrastructure of Internet-connected computers and storage devices used to provide services to users.
There are a lot of different cloud services out there. Some are like online "hard drives," giving you the ability to store data, like your pictures and documents, remotely. Now, if your computer crashes or is stolen, you still have that data in the cloud. Nice and safe. You've probably heard about some of these services: Dropbox, Google Drive, Carbonite, Mozy, etc.
Other services act like pieces of software, but used simply on your web browser. Need to write a text document? Don't use Microsoft Word, use Google Docs. Google actually provides a whole suite of Office-esque products. For free - all run on the Internet: Documents, Presentations, Spreadsheets. All on the cloud. This article was written in Google Docs.
Want to edit a photo? You don't necessary need Photoshop anymore. Try Aviary. It's a full suite of web-based applications (known in cloud computing terms as "software as a service") that provide all sorts of multimedia creation tools like image editing, audio editing and music creation.
Well, that's all nice and good, you say, but wait, there's more! More and more people these days have more than one Internet-connected device. You have a computer, a smartphone and maybe even a tablet. Here's where "the cloud" really shines: syncing. You do something on one device and the changes are reflected on your other devices.
For example, Apple's iCloud service is all about syncing. You take a picture with your iPhone, it can be automatically put in the cloud, and it will show up almost instantly on your computer or iPad. If you read an email or add an event to your calendar, iCloud will sync with all your other devices, so, for instance, that email will be marked as read and that event will show up on the other devices' calendars.
I'll use Dropbox as another example. Say you save a file in your Dropbox folder on your computer. It's then automatically synced to Dropbox's online storage. Later, if you open the Dropbox app on your iPhone, that file will be there. You can even login to your Dropbox account on any computer and access your files from anywhere.
Here's the one big concern with a lot of cloud-based services: security and trust. You're trusting these third-party companies with your data. Are their servers secure from hackers? Hopefully. I don't store any sensitive data in my Dropbox account or any other cloud storage service. Unless I plan to encrypt it first myself.
However, I feel that 99 percent of the time, the benefits of cloud services outweigh risks.
So, there it is. The cloud. Yes, it's a little confusing as to how it all works. Heck, I'm confused about most of that stuff. But, dang if it doesn't make things a lot easier. Especially in this day and age where we're always connected to the Internet on some device or another, having the cloud sync everything is wonderful.
Or if your computer dies. If I have to reinstall Mac OS X on my computer, I don't need to worry about backing up my data. It's already backed up in cloud.
William Brawley is the Electronic Media Producer for The Covington News. If you have any tech issues or other questions email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.