Cloud 101: Foundational Concepts of "The Cloud"

Recent years have been plagued by several scandals and security breaches, which (justifiably) have created a reasonable amount of angst around “the cloud”.  For some, it is a nebulous concept of a place where documents, pictures, and data go to get hacked.  For others, it is a super-convenient way to store and retrieve files, especially while on-the-go.  The concept of the cloud dates back to the 50’s; however, the concept didn’t really become prevalent in computing infrastructure until the mid-late 2000’s.  Even though several people use the cloud on a day-to-day basis, there is still a sense of ambiguity around what it truly is.  Let’s begin by answering that question.

What is it?

The “cloud” is a network of servers.  In laymen’s terms, this means that the cloud is a group of interconnected devices that provide a service to another device or user interface (typically, a user on a computer or mobile device).  Services can range from virtual storage to computing of information.  

Common examples of cloud based services are: Gmail, Google Drive, and Dropbox.

Where is it?

This is probably the most commonly asked question.  The answer: EVERYWHERE: **Insert evil laugh**  In all seriousness, the physical servers that provide the services sit in climate-controlled rooms all over the world.  However, the cloud itself (which is comprised of the interconnected servers) is truly virtual. 

Why should I use it?

There are several benefits to using the cloud. Here are a few: 

Accessibility

In today’s “mobile device-dependent” society, the importance of having access to files from your handheld weapon of choice is extremely high.  With the cloud, users are able to retrieve what they need, when they need it.  Gone are the days of “I’ll get it to you when I get back to my desk”.  Our desks have become virtual workspaces that enable quick, effective resolution and response.

Scalability

With cloud computing, services are subject to on-demand scaling.  The greater the demand for the provided service, the greater the bandwidth provided to effectively deliver the service.  Be mindful that on-demand scaling can have cost implications. 

Disaster Recovery

Perhaps, you’re still married to saving everything to your desktop.  That’s OK!  The cloud still has benefit to you.  If the cloud is not going to be your primary storage solution, make it your back-up.  Nothing compares to the heartache of coming face-to-face with the “blue screen of death” or the Mac “frowny-face”. If your paths do happen to cross, find peace in being prepared.  Use the cloud to regularly (i.e. - quarterly) backup the contents of your hard drive.