“But what is the Cloud, and where is it?” I’m asked this question whenever I tell someone the cool new thing they are starting to use on their phone or computer is “in the cloud”. That question is usually followed up with concerns about security. “How do I access my information?’ “Can my files and data can be stolen or hacked?”
Before The Cloud
Traditionally, files and applications, the stuff you use your computer for, are stored on your own hard drive or internal memory. You install Microsoft Office on your laptop, and save your files on the hard drive. The same holds for large corporate servers, phones and tablets, anything. Take photos on your phone and they are stored on that phone’s internal storage.
This all works great, but there are limitations. Storage space fills up quickly and it can be difficult to add more once you’ve filled it up with Excel spreadsheets, photos or emails. It can be hard to move your data from one place to another, especially if you’re using devices from different vendors. And, worse of all, lose your device or have it crash on you and everything can be lost. As our devices become more personal, critical and essential to our lives, these issues are more than mere annoyances.
Into The Cloud
The Cloud takes the computing power and storage on your own device and moves it into large data centers. These data centers are comprised of thousands of servers, owned and managed by large companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. All of these resources are then accessed via the Internet.
If you use any form of web-based email, like Gmail, Yahoo Mail or Outlook.com, you’re using the Cloud. All of your mail, as well as contacts, calendars and notes, are stored on the servers of those companies. You access that data via the Internet whenever you log in via your computer or phone. In the early days of webmail, it was considered to be inferior to using PC-based applications such as Outlook. As Internet speeds have improved, and the costs of storage and server hardware have decreased, cloud-based services have been become highly reliable and even more functional to what you’d be able to do on your own device.
Is My Stuff Safe?
Now you’re using Cloud-based email, and thinking about storing your documents or photos, even those precious business contracts and financial records, on some cloud service. The big question is how safe are they, and how can you get to them.
These companies providing Cloud services are some of the largest in the world. They can provide more data security, and backup protection, than anything you would be able to do on your own. These companies have billions of dollars and their corporate reputations on the line in a hyper-competitive marketplace, to ensure that these services are secure, reliable and available when you need them to be.
This isn’t to say that problems can’t happen. Gmail outages, and disruptions to Amazon Web Services, make worldwide news when they do happen. But, keep in mind that hardware problems, theft and loss are far more likely to happen to your own device. You don’t have a team of people monitoring to keep things running and restore service when disruptions do occur. If your service does go down for a little bit, take the dog for a walk, and things will probably be back to normal by the time you get back.
The Take Away
A single blog entry can’t cover all of the incredible complexity involved in moving your life to the Cloud. The purpose of this blog is to try and remove some of the mystery regarding the Cloud and encourage everyone to move beyond seeing the Cloud as some dangerous and mysterious place, to a stable and essential way to get the most out of technology and the amazing devices that are such an important part of our world today.