I hear this question a lot – often from people who have recently heard the term used in a commercial. Today, we’ll get into exactly what the “cloud” is, as well as what it isn’t, with respect to consumers (that’s you).
The “cloud” is simply Internet-based storage – that is, the software (program, or application) or data (your information) is stored somewhere else other than being installed on your computer. There are certainly clear advantages that become readily apparent. Ever been nervous about losing all your documents, photos, or music when you had a computer issue? Have you ever had to reinstall all your programs and get back all your data after a computer issue? If you didn’t get all of your data back, or weren’t able to find all the CDs or product license keys to reinstall everything, or just felt you spent too much time doing all of that – you immediately see the benefits of having things in the “cloud”.
So where is “the cloud”? Anywhere not local to your computer could be considered “the cloud”, but the term typically refers to the Internet. As a user, that means if your information and programs are stored in the cloud, you can be anywhere, on any computer – and provided you have an internet connection, have access to your information and run programs.
When it comes to a our computers, too often the files we use every day (documents, photos, email, and more) stored on our local computer aren’t being backed up. (Don’t believe me? I routinely ask people “when was the last time you backed up?”, and 9 times out of 10, the answer is “never”.) In that type of situation, cloud computing means that your emails, photos, and documents are all stored on elsewhere, with no interaction from you.
Feel nervous about your data being in a place that you don’t have complete control over? That is a valid concern. However, if you are one of the millions of users relying on email from Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, or any other similar service – you have already been using cloud computing.
If you haven’t had the opportunity, why not register for a free service like Dropbox? With 2GB of free online storage, you may never have to carry a flash drive again. Simply upload your files, and stop worrying about what’s backed up. Even better, why not check out Microsoft Office Web Apps? The service provides Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote with 25GB of storage – all in the cloud. The documents you create can be downloaded, emailed, and shared – without ever having Microsoft Office installed on your computer. Now that’s keep things in the cloud.