Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Cloud Part 1 -- What is "The Cloud?"

You may have heard by now that Digital Lifeboat offers cloud-based online backup systems. But you’re probably wondering just what is “the cloud” and how is it better than backing up to an external hard drive, for example?
Let’s start with how your PC works. You open an application, like Microsoft Word, and you type a letter, and save the content on your hard drive. The application (Word) and the data (your letter) are on your PC. Cloud computing is an approach which involves the creation and deployment of services and applications over the internet, supported by a coordinated infrastructure. When you open your email, the application is “in the cloud” and when you send the email to a friend, the email is stored “in the cloud.” Lots of services like search engines, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook operate this way.
The popular buzzword, “cloud” simply means storing digital files on someone else’s computer and accessing it by internet.
What people like about “the cloud” is that they can access content on-demand. What businesses like about “the cloud” is that it shares computing resources (networks and servers), that requires minimal management and effort to both access and release. With cloud computing, it’s easy to partition resources for you to use, and when you’re done using those resources, it’s easy to re-integrate those resources back into the cloud for others to use. Cloud computing is an efficient way to increase network capacity and utilization, without having to go out and purchase more equipment that – in the end – will just contribute to the growing problem of e-waste.
With all the different methods and applications used in cloud computing, it would be more accurately described as “sky computing”, with little grouped clouds for each application or service – one for Facebook, another for Salesforce.com, another for YouTube, etc.

More background...
Walt Mossberg has my favorite column on the subject, “Learning About Everything Under The ‘Cloud,’” where he says: “at its most basic level, the cloud is the Internet.” When considering this simple definition, one might conclude that calling the Internet the cloud is merely marketing hype – creating a new term for something we’ve all been accessing for years.

However, as Walt also explains in his column, the concept of the cloud is far more than the worldwide backbone of servers that create the Internet—it’s all the possibilities of what can be done using the Internet due to the latest technologies and lightning-fast speeds that let you access large files and applications from web servers instead of solely storing them on your computer or phone. For example:
  • Businesses can manage customer relationships, schedule appointments, run sophisticated marketing programs, backup server images, restore corrupted data, or remotely monitor networks using web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions that enable real-time updates and allow many simultaneous users.
  • Consumers can access their email accounts, edit their photos, watch streaming movies, manage their personal finances, access saved files, or play multiplayer online games from any Internet connection.
Given the possibilities, the cloud is clearly worthy of much of the attention it receives. But anyone who has lost an Internet connection can also appreciate the limitations of the cloud. When connectivity is down, your local drives or servers are where you go to access your data. This is why you want your most important data—that is, any data you can’t afford to lose—in a hybrid cloud environment.

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