What is cloud computing? is a question we are always asked at Leased Line Comparison.
Along with “Where is the cloud?” “Are we in the cloud now?!” The term “cloud computing” is everywhere, and we are here to explain it.
In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulonimbus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.
What cloud computing is not about is your hard drive. When you store data on–or run programs from the hard drive, that’s called local storage and computing. Everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy (for that one computer, or others on the local network). Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades and some argue it’s still superior to cloud computing, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.
The cloud is also not about having a dedicated hardware server in residence. Storing data on an office network does not count as utilizing the cloud.
For it to be considered “cloud computing,” you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet, or at the very least, have that data synchronized with other information over the Net. In a big business, you may know all there is to know about what’s on the other side of the connection; as an individual user, you may never have any idea what kind of massive data-processing is happening on the other end. The end result is the same: with an on-line connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, any time.
Consumer vs. Business
Let’s be clear here. We’re talking about cloud computing as it impacts individual consumers—those of us who sit back at home or in small-to-medium offices and use the Internet on a regular basis.
There is an entirely different “cloud” when it comes to business. Some businesses choose to implement Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), where the business subscribes to an application it accesses over the Internet. (Think Salesforce.com.) There’s also Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), where a business can create its own custom applications for use by all in the company. And don’t forget the mighty Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), where players like Amazon, Google, and Rackspace provide a backbone that can be “rented out” by other companies. (Think Netflix providing services to you because it’s a customer of the cloud-services at Amazon.)
Of course, cloud computing is big business: reports claim that 80% of UK businesses are either looking at using cloud services—or already have.
Common Cloud Examples
The lines between local computing and cloud computing sometimes get very, very blurry. That’s because the cloud is part of almost everything on our computers these days. You can easily have a local piece of software (for instance, Microsoft Office 365, one of the versions of Office 2013) that utilizes a form of cloud computing for storage (Microsoft Skydrive in the case of Office). That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web apps that are close versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that you can access via your Web browser without installing anything.
Some other major examples of cloud computing you’re probably using or aware of:
Google Drive: This is a pure cloud computing service, with all the apps and storage found online. Drive is also available on more than just desktop computers; you can use it on tablets like the iPad or on smartphones. In fact, all of Google’s services could be considered cloud computing: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Google Voice, and so on. Upgrade to Google Apps and you can use many of the above with your own domain name attached.
Apple iCloud: Apple’s cloud service is primarily used for online storage and synchronisation of your mail, contacts, calendar, and more. All the data you need is available to you on your iOS, Mac OS, or Windows device. iCloud also stores media files.
Amazon Cloud Drive: Storage at the big retailer is mainly for music, preferably MP3s that you purchase from Amazon.
Hybrid services like Box, Dropbox, and SugarSync all say they work in the cloud because they store a synced version of your files on-line, but most also sync those files with local storage. Synchronisation to allow all your devices to access the same data is a cornerstone of the cloud computing experience, even if you do access the file locally. Likewise, it’s considered cloud computing if you have a community of people with separate devices that need the same data synced, be it for work collaboration projects or for home purposes.
A key component of ensuring that backups are moved to the cloud quickly and efficiently is to have a stable and reliable internet connection like a leased line.