The Cloud

Fear of the unknown: that is why many people avoid trusting the thing we call “The Cloud”.

First, let me dispel two common myths: “The Cloud” is much more than just iCloud (Apple’s cloud offering), and it is generally much more secure than tabloid articles lead you to believe when they report that another celebrity iCloud account has been hacked.

“The Cloud” is really just a metaphor for “The Internet”. The term comes from the symbol we use in network diagrams that refers to the Internet. The term “cloud” is often used as an adjective for the words “storage” or “computing”.

Cloud Storage simply means electronic storage (measured in Gigabytes, or similar) that is kept on secure servers on the Internet, rather than on a local device like a hard drive, flash drive, or optical disk. Typically, this data is stored behind a username/password login; and often it is encrypted, so that even the “hosting company” of that storage cannot view the data. The “cloud” bit doesn’t imply that it is not stored securely … quite the opposite … it just means that you don’t know the details of the hosting: where it is geographically, or how many servers are involved in its storage.

Cloud Computing simply means the program/app in question is hosted (stored) on a server on the Internet, rather than locally (e.g. hard drive). The pro is that your software is kept up-to-date for you; the con is that there can be delays and interruptions in running the app.

The biggest benefit, common to both Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing, is that you can access them from any device (i.e. PC, Mac, Android, iOS) via the Internet … often with just a standard web browser. This allows you to jump seamlessly between devices, or easily share all or part of the stored information with others.

The downsides to Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing are:

* they are dependent on the hosting company, which always have their ups and downs

* they are dependent on your Internet connection … subject to it being up or down, fast or slow

* they are account-based, and so have an associated cost, and a dependency on your account being in good standing

Armed with a basic knowledge of “The Cloud”, you can make better choices of when to use it and when to avoid it for storage and apps. For example, based on all the downsides mentioned, I often recommend local storage over cloud storage for large amounts of data. For similar reasons, I usually suggest a local Office program over a subscription-based app like Office 365.

On the positive side, cloud storage is great for storing small backups and shared data, and there are a great many cloud apps that don’t have “local” alternatives.