What is Cloud Computing?
What is cloud computing and why are cloud services important?
No doubt you’ve heard the term cloud computing or cloud services everywhere in technology news and wondered what it was, and what it means, big picture. Especially if you are a small business trying to keep up with changing technology.
First some history: The term itself stems from a software application that network engineers use to visually map the logical flow of network information. Visio from Microsoft has been the defacto standard in computer network mind mapping since before “mind mapping” was a thing.
The image above is a pretty typical representation of a traditional network depicted by visio. See the little picture of the internet off to the left? There is your cloud. That is where the term comes from and is an accurate summation of what it actually is. Vapour held together by many many insubstantial bonds. That is what the internet is in essence; millions of disparate connections that form a phantom network.
Here is where it gets awesome: That cloud has enveloped and absorbed your network (maybe not yours yet, but soon), and you no longer need your own server(s) or even computers in some cases.
The server that used to sit in the back closet in your office is almost obsolete. You dont need to listen to the whirr of those fans anymore. For almost every application that used to sit on your server, there is a new breed of hosted applications that replace the functions your server used to provide, and they do it more securely, more efficiently and, most important, with more redundancy (safety) than you could ever hope to acheive with your own network server.
In the above scenario, your applications are now accessible from any location with any internet connected device. The uninformed sometimes argue that this makes their critical data less secure, but in fact the opposite is true. No matter how secure you think your in-house network is, if it is targeted by a talented hacker with advanced social engineering skills, they will breach your defences. If your data is in the cloud, there are corporate grade firewalls and multiple layers of security protecting it 24/7.
One concern people bring up is that of connectivity i.e. what if my internet connection goes down? Am I out of business until it is fixed? I explain that you presently spend thousands per year on backup tapes for your server, so why not use a fraction of that expense for a redundant internet connection instead! Even the most basic failover net connection will double your level of redundancy (safety in data back up and protection).
Another objection is “I like knowing where my data is, that it is sitting inside a box on my property.” Oh? Can you touch the 1′s and 0′s that represent your data? This one requires a bit more abstraction in your thought processes. The transition from a paper based business model where you licked stamps to send one another information to the digital where you now have icons that represent your data files and folders that contain docs, pics, music, etc, required significant effort to effect. You went from things that you could touch to objects that you could relate and conceptualize as being representative of the things they used to be in the old model (a word document represents writing paper, etc).. However they are nothing like what they used to be, they are flowing binary information. Your word doc is no more “inside” your computer than an actual filing cabinet is. All the cloud does is relocate the flow of some on or off electrons from point A to point B. This is a big one to get your head around, I know. There is no spoon. 8)
Ok, so what can I do with the cloud? Well chances are you’ve been using it for years without even knowing it. Have a Gmail account? Or Hotmail? Or Yahoo? Then you are already using cloud computing! Ten years ago, you had a program on your computer (probably Outlook), that would receive your email from a server out in the cloud. Now, the Gmail web interface has replaced Outlook as the “application” used to view your email. Gmail exists nowhere on your computer, and yet you trust it to always be there with your mail.
A big component of what a server used to do was share files between users on your network. There are now file synchronization services from companies like Dropbox or Sugarsync that provide exactly these functions today. Or you can move your group collaboration software (shared contacts, calendars etc) to the cloud with Microsoft Office 365. You no longer need an exchange server. Do you use custom database software? Look at Podio.com or Sharepoint online.
This is the cloud. This is the future.
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