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what is the cloud?

Dec 18th, 2010 | Posted by | Filed under Indianapolis IT support

What is the cloud?

When I saw a commercial on tv from Microsoft saying something to the affect of “go to the cloud” I knew this tech buzzword was finally mainstream. So, what is the cloud? And, more important, why should I care of about the cloud?

What is the cloud? Instead of storing your data (mail, photos, spreadsheets, etc) locally on your computer on your business servers it is stored on servers usually located at a large data center anywhere in the country, or world. The cloud name comes from the picture or diagrams used to describe networks which showed the data centers out on the Internet in a cloud. So, the cloud is really just a bunch of servers, which are just computers, located in a big building with specialized cooling, power backup generators, fire suppression systems, etc that allow users to access their data from anywhere on the Internet.

The cloud can be a good idea for you and your business or maybe not such a good idea.  It really depends on your view and needs regarding security, availability and other factors.  If you consider that something like Google’s Gmail or Yahoo mail is really just a cloud mail application then it is easy to wrap your head around what the cloud is and what it offers.  In the above two examples, your mail is stored on servers and you may access it from any Internet connected computer with a web browser.  As some Gmail users experienced over the past year or so, sometimes your mail is not accessible if the servers are down or there are Internet connection issues to the servers.

Why you should care about the cloud matters how you use technology. One example of how the cloud benefits business is that it allows mobile/remote users to access information through the Internet directly. That may not seem all that revolutionary because many businesses already allow remote users access to business information, and I agree.  However, for some small businesses without IT experience they can quickly and inexpensively setup document sharing and email for their employees.  There are always caveats, though, such as, are your emails and documents being crawled, stored and searched by the companies hosting your information on their servers?  That may be disturbing for some users and especially for some businesses.

I don’t want to give the impression that the cloud is bad in all respects and I recently came across a particularly useful cloud application scenario: storing virtual server backups and even hosting the virtualized servers during disaster recovery situations.  This is an example that illustrates both some of the advantages and limitations of the cloud.  Utilizing on site servers and data storage in most cases reduces costs and allows for faster access.  Internet connection speeds have come a long way but sitting in your office at 100Mbs or even 1000Mbps is much faster than an air card or a wireless connection at Starbucks (trust me I frequent the coffee titan daily).  However, in the event of a disaster having your server data and images of the server drives stored online in the cloud can literally save a business if their server room or entire building is destroyed or more commonly the case, flooded.

I’m beginning to digress, into the technical world, so I’ll wrap up by reiterating; the cloud simply allows you to store data on servers out on the Internet.  Again, this is not revolutionary, we’ve been storing mail on the Internet for many years.  The revolution, if it does happen, is when most of your applications run from, and store data on, the Internet and not on your computer.

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