Cloud computing is making a lot of headlines in the technology trade press and the wider business media who appear to be more than just a little enthralled by the new opportunities on offer. A benefit of cloud is that it is a means of buying your technology as an Internet-supplied service, so that you only use as much processing power and storage as you need at any one time.
But is cloud the sole preserve of enterprise big business and corporate high finance? Or do the rest of us get to play with cloud services and enjoy the benefits of more flexible computing and therefore (in theory at least) the cost savings and other efficiencies that are supposed to come with it?
You are already using the cloud!
The truth is, you are already using the cloud, although you may not even realize it. From online photo sharing websites, to any web-based email service through to music and document storage, there are a massive variety of websites now classified under the cloud model that you probably already know. But here’s the thing — knowing that these sites do indeed operate from “cloud servers” housed in data centers can ultimately increase your ability to use the functions on offer.
Hotmail for example, or any other online mail service that you access through your web browser for that matter, is very much classified as a cloud service. After all, your contacts and email history are all stored online (although you may also choose to replicate them offline in Outlook). Where are they stored? On a cloud server in data center dedicated to the service you have subscribed to.
Photo sharing websites also come under the cloud banner and whether you prefer to use Flickr, PhotoBucket, Instagram, or pin on Pinterest or one of the many others, the proposition is essentially the same i.e. your images sit on a web page, on a server, on a cloud service.
The social cloud
So by this point hopefully it won’t come as too much of a surprise to hear that social networks from Facebook to Twitter and beyond are also essentially cloud based. The important point to remember here is that being located in the cloud makes the service “interoperable” so that a multiplicity of users can all interconnect with each other.
But isn’t the cloud just the Internet then? Well yes it is – but, crucially, it’s all about what we do with Internet and the opportunities it offers. It’s often useful to think of the web as a ‘transport mechanism’, or indeed as the ‘information superhighway’ that it was initially labeled.
So the Internet is our channel (or our gateway), and the cloud is where the web services and applications that we want to use reside. Think of the cloud as Microsoft Word that you never installed on your computer yet you can still use for word processing; the service to use the “app” in question is there, it just doesn’t sit on your machine until you connect to it in the cloud over the web.
When cloud gets clever
Where the cloud will come into its own is in collaboration; and this means collaboration between users and between multiple devices that may often be owned by the same single user. Document hosting websites such as Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Dropbox, or Apple’s iCloud are already providing up to 5 Gigabytes of storage free of charge. The data you store on these sites can be accessed via your laptop or desktop, but also when you are online with your tablet or smartphone — so this is what makes the cloud special and, to be honest, pretty clever.
How much cloud do we use already?
The numbers are quite staggering actually, technology reports estimate that that we already upload as many as 2,000,000,000 videos to YouTube every 24 hours. Cloud-based communication service Skype has as many as 560,000,000 user accounts in 29 languages — and Gmail reports up to 150,000,000 email addresses around the planet.
The cloud is here, we are all already using it and it is here to stay. How you use it wisely and safely when online is your choice, so be sure to exercise as much caution with any of the data you interact with as you would in your normal desktop experience.