Cloud computing is a network of shared computer servers, designed to be ubiquitously available to all users. These servers exist as pools of shared resources that can be quickly setup and deployed with minimal management effort. Services available “in the cloud” include things such as:
- File storage like Apple iCloud, Google Drive, and Gmail
- Software applications like Facebook, Weather, and email
- Services like the weather, traffic, financial information, and maps
The cloud represents a massive change from just a few years ago, when every individual computer had to have specific software applications installed one by one. Today, instead of installing Microsoft Word or Excel, for example, you might access Microsoft Office 365 through your Safari, Chrome, or Firefox web browser.
Where is the Cloud?
The Cloud is made up of hundreds of data centers all around the world. These data centers function very much like our old landline telephone system. Amazon is a great example of a cloud service provider (Amazon Web Services, or AWS) who sells their cloud services to other software providers. Microsoft and Google offer similar services.
However, despite these big dominant players, more than 35% of cloud services are owned and operated by small businesses, including your local ISPs. These smaller players own or rent space and computer servers in data centers near their business or near their customers.
The simple answer to “where” cloud services are located is this: on web servers all over the globe. In fact, you are reading this blog post as it’s hosted in the cloud.
What can I do in the Cloud?
The list is long and sometimes complicated, but here is a general listing of the types of services that are available in the Cloud:
- Computing – Think Google Sheets of Microsoft Excel, but on a massive scale
- Storage – think SmugMug, Shutterfly, Flickr for storing all your digital photos
- Applications – Instagram is a simple example of an app that resides on your phone, but which actually runs in the Cloud.
- Development – Most software developers store their software code in the Cloud, and the most popular service for that is Github.
- Management – Do you use QuickBooks for your small business or Mint.com for your personal financial management? Both of those services are offered in the Cloud. You can also manage your home appliances through the cloud using devices like Google’s Nest.
- Backup – Have you ever had a computer hard drive fail? Did you lose everything? While hard drives will still fail, the fear of “losing everything” is rapidly fading away, because anyone can backup gigabytes or even terabytes of data in the cloud for pennies per month. For businesses, the cloud is a critical part of disaster recovery planning.
That’s easier to consider than everything that is now in the cloud. The point is that the computing world has been moving towards everything – data, software, files, images, video, audio – being stored in the cloud.
For your business, the simple way to consider what the cloud can mean is to think about how many servers you have (or used to have) in your office. Every one of those servers can be replaced by a cloud service. That means less hardware and maintenance in your office, which means a much lower probability of damage or loss of the data on those servers.
It also means that the files and data you used to backup from your computer are (or can be) automatically backed up in the cloud. What are you waiting for? The cloud is waiting for you!