When we talk about technological advances, it’s easy to sound like a grandpa (apologies to all the grandpas out there). “So you’ve got your wi-fi and your Bluetooths and blogs and YouTubes. What’ll they think of next? The internet in your eyeglasses?” Oh, wait, never mind.
But one of the biggest advances in computing technology has been quietly working its way into our lives for years. Cloud computing—that nebulous buzz phrase everybody loves to use—simply describes the activity of using the internet and data centers as a service by outsourcing the work your physical computer might do to a much more powerful computer that exists in a server center. Think of it this way. You could have a super computer in your own home that you use only 1% of the time. Or you could connect via the internet to a super computer that still gives you the 1% you need, while collectively also giving other users the processing power they need.
If you think cloud computing falls outside your technical skillset, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that you’re already using it. If you do any of the following, you’re already using cloud computing:
● Check your email at Gmail, Hotmail, or any number of web-based email services
● Listen to music on Spotify or connect to friends and family over Skype
● Play online games like Mass Effect 2 or Sims 3
● Access your banking accounts online, and take advantage of features like bill pay
● Publish a blog using Blogger or WordPress, or store your photos on Flickr
● Rely on tools like Google Docs or Apple’s iCloud (that one should be pretty obvious, right?)
Put simply, cloud computing frees your computer from the massive processing power and storage demands that would accompany running all of these applications directly on your machine. Instead, your computer acts as a portal to those services or platforms, which takes the burden off your machine, allowing it to run faster with less processing power.
The benefits of cloud computing
Businesses are able to offer cloud-based services because they can take advantage of high-speed networks, powerful server centers, and the relatively low cost of storage. But what are the benefits of cloud computing for you?
By taking advantage of cloud computing, you stand to gain:
● Efficiency: You don’t need to physically own powerful processors and large data storage capacity. Think of cloud computing as a “pay-as-you-drink” model, where you only pay for what you use. Because other users do the same, it leads to lower usage costs for everyone.
● Low-cost: Cloud computing services are often cheaper to purchase than stand-alone software, and the overall cost of maintaining that software tends to be lower too.
● Scalable: Let’s say you were using a cloud-based database and you suddenly found a need to store twenty times more records than you’re currently storing. With cloud computing, you can easily add that capacity, whereas with a stand-alone database you might need to install another server or purchase, install, and configure a more robust database solution.
It can’t be all sunshine and roses, can it?
So we’ve talked about the benefits of cloud computing. Is it nothing but a silver lining? Well, not quite. The cloud does contain just a bit of rain for our parade.
● Connection: Cloud computing requires a connection to the internet. Many of us have come to expect high-speed internet access everywhere we go, but it doesn’t take long to realize that these access points don’t exist everywhere.
● Security: While most cloud computing is very safe, there is some vulnerability involved whenever you transmit sensitive information over a network.
● Legal: With the explosion in cloud computing, some services and businesses have run afoul of privacy and compliance concerns, and these are growing concerns as more personal data (like medical records) move to the cloud.
● Environmental: Cloud computing often projects a kinder, gentler environmental image, but it may not be as green as it claims to be. Those powerful data centers consume massive amounts of power in order to provide their services.
What can we expect cloud computing to become?
Cloud computing was predicted as far back as the 1950s, though it wasn’t until the 1990s that network infrastructure and advancements in processors and storage led to the explosion in services we see today. So what do we have to look forward to?
The growing reliability and acceptance of cloud-based services has led some to predict that the biggest trends in cloud computing will be in big-data processing, business analytics, and collaboration tools. As network infrastructure and stability increases, we’re likely to see more applications and services move to the cloud.
Next up, we’ll focus on security issues surrounding cloud computing, and what you can do to ensure you’re staying safe in the cloud.