What is Cloud Computing?

This weekend two people asked me to explain cloud computing, so I thought I’d add something about it to the blog.

Like a lot of things with emerging technology, Cloud Computing has become a buzzword which many people don’t understand, and are afraid to ask. Here’s a rundown on what it is, and what it can do for you.

You know what your hard drive is. You might also have a server at work, where your computer is connected to a main computer where you access and save files. However, as a general rule, you need to stay on-site, and literally hardwired to the company’s main computer server. (Yes, some of you can work off-site with your laptops, but we won’t go into that for this example.)
To get around the portability problem, people have put presentations on CDs, email themselves files, use little thumb drives, or external drives when they need the info for presentations, to work at home, etc.
Cloud computing is kind of like using a hard drive in the sky. It eliminates the need to carry items around to use your information somewhere else. That’s because the server is on the internet, not at your company, or on your hard drive. So it’s as portable as the internet. If you have internet service, you have access to your information. On the other hand – if you don’t have access to the internet, you don’t have access to your info unless you back it up.
Here’s the good news about cloud computing. You can create the documents online, share the documents (as you would with your company’s server or mainframe).
Google offers this for free when you sign up for a gmail email account, and also provides software for free. This is an awesome work-around for people like me, who don’t want to spend $500 or so on buying Microsoft Word products, so I can open Word docs from customers. I simply log into Google Documents, and can open, create, save and work on files, just as if I had the software on my computer. I can also export these in common file formats, so I can save the files to my hard drive or share the files as if I had created them in regular software.
With cloud computing, I have access to spreadsheet software, presentation software, word processing software, as well as software to make forms, tables and rudimentary drawings if I want to make a simple flyer. I can also choose to share these documents with others.
I did this with our Christmas list since we drew names this year, and shared the document with everyone via email.
The downside of cloud computing are:
  • Security could be a problem if (for example) you get in the habit of having an automatic login, so another person can change your data if on your computer, or if someone obtains your password they have your info
  • It’s still not as fast as backing up to an external drive or server
  • You can only use the web to update it, in some cases – such as using WordPress for creating web sites. This can get cumbersome if you happen to be somewhere with a laptop and there’s no wireless internet – such as when you’re traveling by car, and you have 10 hours you could use for web updates, but can’t because there’s no consistent web access.
  • Personally, I found google’s tools for storing and organizing file folders pretty clunky and disorganized. much like their mail storage. It improved with the last upgrade, however.
Upsides of cloud computing are:
  • Your info is accessible and shareable anywhere there’s wireless
  • If you work on your own or your company is small, you (and your staff) have the free equivalent of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and graphics editing with Google Drive
  • Presentations can be done via laptop just by logging in
  • You can share and work on files as though you have a shared server – which, by the way, comes with its own free IT service, so there’s no down time on the server side


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