We’re living in the information age, so terms such as ‘the cloud’ and ‘cloud computing’ are often used in conversation. For those of us born before household PCs were commonplace, keeping up with the rapidly growing breadth of technological jargon can be daunting.
So, what does ‘the cloud’ refer to? According to an article by Mark Harris on Lifewire, the cloud refers to an online space where one stores data. Instead of storing files on physical devices like USB flash drives or external hard drives, these files are uploaded to a network of internet servers (the cloud), which then act as a virtual storage space.
How does your data end up in the cloud? When you upload your data to any online platform via the internet, you are uploading it to the cloud. For example, if you are a Twitter user and you tweet about something, your tweet will be stored (and accessed by your followers) in the cloud. If you are a Pinterest user and you pin a photo onto one of your boards, you are uploading that photo to the cloud. When you upload a video to Facebook, your video is stored in the cloud.
According to PC Mag, cloud computing is therefore the practice of storing data and programs over the internet to the cloud (i.e. to servers all around the world), and then being able to access and utilise them via the same channel. This is vastly different from storing and accessing your data and programs on the hard drive of your computer. Using your computer’s hard drive as a storage and computing platform is known as local storage and computing.
Microsoft Azure explains the uses of cloud computing on their website, which include: creating new apps and services; storing, backing up, and recovering data; hosting websites and blogs; streaming audio and video; delivering software on demand; and analysing data for patterns, in order to make predictions.
Cloud computing is gradually being seen as the preferred method of computing, among both consumers and businesses. However, as with any great advances in technology, this solution has its advantages and disadvantages.
- Accessing information on any device with an internet connection, whether at home or in the office
- Storing vast amounts of data without running out of storage space
- Reducing costs by eliminating the need for certain hardware equipment traditionally used in local storage and computing
- The ability to increase or decrease resources (such as computing power, storage or bandwidth) on the cloud according to need
- Improving the productivity of a business’ IT department by cutting down on certain IT infrastructure tasks, such as hardware setup and software patching
- Increased reliability as data backup, disaster recovery and business continuity becomes easier, due to data not being stored locally
Recode also discusses the disadvantages of cloud computing:
- Without a stable internet connection, you are unable to access your data and cloud-based applications
- If there are technical issues, power failures, or disasters on any of the server farms that make up the cloud, you may also be unable to access your data and programs
- As your information is stored online, there is a risk of it being accessed by hackers
- More cloud computing requires more internet access and increased bandwidth, which may result in increased costs from internet providers
- There is always the debate of intellectual property in terms of who owns the data that you store in the cloud
Although the possible problems listed above may sound daunting, the reality is that businesses need the flexibility that cloud computing offers. The ability to have a mobile office, to access presentations from Google Drive or Dropbox while visiting clients, or to send urgent emails from your cell phone while away from your desk are all benefits that outweigh the arguments against using the cloud for business.
In the words of Steve Jobs, the late chairman of Apple, “I don’t need a hard disk in my computer if I can get to the server faster… carrying around these non-connected computers is byzantine by comparison.”