What is The Cloud?

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There are a lot of technology terms out there.  Recently it came to my attention that the phrase “The Cloud” isn’t known or understood by everyone so I thought I would write this article to explain what the cloud is, as it refers to technology and the internet.

According to Wikipedia, Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).

While you may have recently heard the term cloud computing, the fact is this type of computing dates back to the 1950s when universities and corporates used client computers to access more sophisticated mainframe computers over a network.

In fact, one could argue that the internet came about because of the need for better and more sophisticated cloud centric activities.

Of course it wasn’t called “the cloud” back then.  That term is a relatively recent one.

What Sorts of Things Can be Done on the Cloud?

You may not realize it but you probably use the cloud daily without even knowing it.  Right now you are reading this article on your computer from a website hosted “in the cloud”.  You probably get your email from another location, therefore your email is “in the cloud”.

Do you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media service? Then you are likely storing and sharing data via the cloud.  Do you watch Netflix?  That’s a cloud based service.  Do you have your music stored somewhere like Google Music? Yup you guessed it – also a cloud based service.

But there is a lot more you can do with the cloud.

For example, did you know that both Microsoft and Google (and a few others) offer completely cloud based office applications?  There you can create, edit and store documents, create and manage spreadsheets and even host websites.  One of my favorite of these types of services is from Zoho.  I can create and edit documents, store notes and share them with others.  They even have a free CRM software, wiki, reminders & todo lists and more.  All for free and all in the cloud ready to share with others if you wanted to.

There are also many sites that store photos for you and allow you to edit them all within the cloud.

Youtube and other video services allow you to not only upload videos, but edit them as well before sharing with the world.

And then there are the business applications of the cloud.

Companies are embracing “VPN” services, or Virtual Private Networks which allow them to set up secure encrypted connections with their remote employees.

Through the use of a VPN an employee can connect into his office and use his computer as if he were sitting at his desk in the office.  All communications between his computer and his office are securely connected and send via encrypted data to each other.

There are also movements to integrate social media with collaboration tools allowing employees to “share” business information securely over services similar to Facebook and Twitter.

That is correct – using Twitter and Facebook-like services companies are connecting their employees better than ever.

The best part of using such services is that the cost of ownership is much less than actually investing in the hardware, software and manpower of such systems to keep them internal.  And they are just secure (if not more so) than “internal” systems.  Plus, with many of these systems people can tie in their other social media accounts, allowing them to easily integrate their corporate life with their personal life.

Such systems are really ideal for marketing firms.  You can give your employees one central dashboard to communicate marketing strategy internally, and then broadcast your marketing message to the world, whether it is to inform the world of a client’s new products or services, or just let them know what’s happening in your company.

There are other applications for the cloud as well.

For example, I use various services to store and share documents, from Dropbox, to Box.net to SkyDrive to Google Drive.  Each of these services gives me free storage space to keep documents, pictures and even backup files from my computer.

This way if I need something on another computer, or even my tablet or phone, I can readily access it, make changes to it, and even share with others.

These types of systems are ideal for me as I am able to quickly move documents between devices and take them with me.

Here’s an example:

I recently met with a client regarding their website.  I completed a site audit on their site and emailed it to them.

I then stored the audit in my Dropbox.  I took my iPad with me to a meeting with them then opened the document on my iPad.  This allowed me to go through the document with them without having to print out 20 or 30 pages of it for a single use.

Here’s another example:

We all know the value of backing up your computer.  What if your hard drive failed – would you be able to quickly recover?

Well because I keep my important client documents not only on my computer, but also my backup hard drive AND some cloud based services I will always have access to them no matter where I am.  I no longer have to complete system backups of my computer, which normally would take hours to do.  I just drag the important stuff to my various cloud based service folders and wait for them to sync up with their servers.

As you have probably already guessed – you are already connected to the cloud and use it every day.  Cloud based systems and services are so ingrained into the Internet as we know it that it is probably impossible to go through your day WITHOUT using the cloud in some form.

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