Just What is ‘The Cloud,’ Anyway? Expert Reveals Basics of Cloud Computing

I love it when people come up with esoteric terms for simple concepts.

Now, sometimes it can be done to elevate something simple, the way Roseanne Barr used the term “Domestic Engineer” to define her role as a housewife. Other times, it is done to make something seem more magical than it really is. This is a perfect description of computing on “The Cloud.”

Cloud computing, simply put, is the use of software that isn’t actually on your computer, but resides on an outside server. Many of us do it all the time without realizing that we are surfing the Cloud. For instance, whenever someone uses Google Docs to write or store documents, which a basic service Google offers for free along with gmail, they are on the Cloud.

The dictionary definition used by us tech geeks is the delivery of computing as a service, as opposed to a product on the shelf at Best Buy. Now, some cloud services are free, while others cost money. It just depends on how involved they are. Many companies outsource their database development or enterprise software in a Cloud environment. General consumers, however, can find lots of free services on Yahoo! and Google. I am fond of Google Docs, as it delivers the same basic functionality of Microsoft Word without having to pay $500 to get it. Moreover, you can save files in multiple formats, including Word.

Some Cloud applications are based in the Internet browser and compatible with Internet Explorer and Firefox, while others may use a proprietary dashboard or graphic user interface (GUI) to deliver their services.

For me, one of the biggest advantages is having my data stored someplace other than my computer. Most Cloud services use servers with redundancies, so your data is safe. If your computer gets the Blue Screen of Death, having your docs or databases on The Cloud means you won’t lose anything. Once you get your laptop back from Geek Squad, you’ll be able to sign on again, and all your stuff will be right where you left it.

Another advantage is the scalability of The Cloud. If you’re a grandfather and you constantly have your digital video cam at the ready for the next time your grandchildren take a new step, say a new word, burp, poke the cat in the eye with the rattle or anything else that could be considered cute, then your data storage needs are huge. Video takes up a lot of memory. With The Cloud, you can record to your heart’s content until the batteries in the camera go dead. You’ll always be able to upgrade your memory needs without having to buy a new hard drive.

So, if you’ve been wondering what the Cloud is chances are you are probably already floating on one. If you’re the typical computer user and you don’t need much, there are plenty of solutions out there for you with basic functions that can save you time, money and headaches. If you’re a business owner, think about what you really need, and before you go buying an expensive piece of software, look into some Cloud applications and shared services providers. You may find what you need when you need it, without paying a bundle for an out of the box product that may not suit all your needs or gives you more than you need.

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