Caught in the Web

Cloud Computing EXPLAINED

 

by Laura Emery, Field Editor

 

What exactly is cloud computing? If the idea is new to you, keep reading — because cloud computing is changing how businesses and individuals approach software and data.

Cloud computing is a technology that allows consumers and businesses to utilize the Internet and central remote servers to store and maintain data and applications. It, essentially, gives you the capability to use applications without having to install them. Because it involves remote access, it allows consumers and businesses to access personal files at any computer that has Internet access. You could think of cloud computing as like living in a big city and choosing to use the public transportation system rather than having the expense of maintaining and owning a car.

You’re probably already using some form of cloud computing. For example, email is cloud computing — whether you connect through Hotmail, Yahoo, Google, or Gmail. Another example is data storage. Data stored on your home or business computer suffers from many of the same restrictions as email and, as with email, cloud computing offers a solution. Storing your MP3s, videos, photos and documents online instead of at home gives you the freedom to access them wherever you can find the means to get online.

Here are a few examples of cloud storage. Google Docs allows users to upload documents, spreadsheets and presentations to Google’s data servers. Users can edit files using a Google application. Users can also publish documents so that other people can read them or even make edits. As explained previously, Web email providers like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail store email messages on their own servers. Users can access their email from computers and other devices connected to the Internet. Popular websites like Flickr and Picasa host millions of digital photographs. Their users create online photo albums by uploading pictures directly to the services’ servers. And everyone has heard of YouTube — this cloud-computing-based website hosts millions of user-uploaded video files. Website-hosting companies like StartLogic, Hostmonster and GoDaddy also store files and data for client websites. Facebook and MySpace allow members to post pictures and other content, all of which get stored on remote servers. Additionally, services like Xdrive, MediaMax and Strongspace offer storage space for any kind of digital data.

Like most things, cloud computing has strengths and weaknesses, depending on your perspective. Mack Wingfield of Fairfax, Va., says, “From an enterprise perspective, it makes sense — you don’t own anything other than a basic NetBook and any IT services that you need, including software, are provided on an as-needed basis. For home computing, I want to be able to use my software if the Internet goes out, though.” Amanda Hartman of Richmond, Va., says, “It has pros and cons. ‘Ownership’ becomes an issue, as well as security. But for backup purposes, cloud computing can really save your bacon. If your hard drive dies or there is a fire in your house, you still have all of your photos, etc. As a sole home-computing option, however, it is not ideal — but a hybrid environment, such as using Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive, where your items are backed up on an offsite location (online) is incredibly useful and increasingly affordable.”

According to Rivka Tadjer with PCMag.com, “Ultimately, your personal cloud — which includes everything from your address book and music collection to your reports and documents for work — will connect to the public cloud and other personal clouds. Everything connects. That means every place on the Internet you interact with, as well as every person you interact with, can be connected. This includes your social networks, bank, university, workplace, family, friends — you name it.”

 

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