References to the cloud are everywhere these days. The cloud is the next iteration of using the Internet to change the way the world operates and interacts. Here is a brief primer on what the cloud is, how it came about and how you may already be using it.
What is the Cloud?
In the simplest terms, the cloud is the tech world's successful attempt to store data and applications on remote servers rather than on local hard drives. The data is then accessed and applications are used through the Internet.
The term cloud comes from the days when flowcharts used a cloud shape to represent the entire world of the Internet. Usually, arrows pointed in and out of this cloud to indicate that data flowed back and forth from local machines through this cloud to other machines. The cloud often represented a highway more than a destination.
This is still true; however, the cloud has grown to represent a destination in itself. Many companies, as well as home users, send data to the cloud rather than storing it on local hard drives. Many others use applications that live in the cloud and not on their local machine. Using DropBox or eBay are common examples of using the cloud.
A Brief History
It used to be that the local hard drive was the fastest and safest place to store data and applications. Hard drives went through a period in which their capacity grew exponentially each year. However, with the worldwide improvements in Internet access, reliability and speed, many companies have adopted a cloud-based model. It no longer makes sense for small- and medium-sized businesses, or even home users, to store data and applications on local machines that require IT staff for maintenance.
The cloud model allows the IT responsibilities to shift to a larger company with expertise, and reduces costs for all as expenditures are spread across the cloud. Several large and well-known players have taken the lead in cloud computing including Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon.
Common Examples of Using the Cloud
Home users may be most familiar with the cloud through programs such as Google's Gmail or calendar applications. These cloud apps allow users to access their information from any Internet-enabled device with a web browser.
Computer backup services are some of the most popular cloud-based apps. Programs like Carbonite or Backblaze use cloud storage to save pictures and other data online instead of on the local hard drive.
Companies Offering Cloud Services
Several large tech companies provide cloud services to end users and companies. Here are a few examples of cloud services available from the well-known players.
The Apple iCloud is a content-sharing service that lives on the cloud. Apple has designed its devices with the ability to automatically sync to each other using data stored on the cloud. Once a user creates an iCloud account, keeping Apple devices synchronised becomes easy.
Microsoft has versions of its popular applications Word, Excel and PowerPoint that are available through the cloud. This allows companies and home users to use these powerful apps without having to purchase, install and update the local hard drive-based versions of the software.
The Amazon Cloud Drive product is Amazon's offering in the cloud storage and computing space. Subscribers can store data, videos and photos and access this data from up to eight devices. The popular Kindle Fire HD is closely linked to Amazon's cloud.
Google has been a player in the cloud space for years with its Google drive apps. Google seems to be leading the pack in terms of app and document sharing with versions of Word and Excel that are easily accessible in the cloud. Google has released the Samsung Chromebook, a cloud-centric laptop.
Cloud computing has revolutionised the way companies and home users store and access data and applications. The increased use of laptop computers, the Internet and even social media have all moved technology into a model that is easier to use, less expensive and requires less technical expertise on the part of users. The next time you hear about the cloud, it is likely that you are already using it.