Chances are you’ve heard people talking about “the cloud” or “cloud computing.” But what does it mean when you hear someone describe their servers or applications as “in the cloud”?
The simplest way of understanding cloud computing is by thinking about it as a way of storing and accessing data through the Internet.
Before cloud computing, data was stored somewhere physical—like on your computer’s hard drive. The “cloud” is more or less a way of describing storage that isn’t tangible.
The metaphor comes from the days when flowcharts depicted the Internet’s server infrastructure as a puffy, white cloud hovering above everything as it gave and received information.
What isn’t Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing doesn’t take place on a hard drive. Running an application or accessing data that is stored on your computer’s hard drive uses what is known as “local” storage. In local computing, everything you use is in physical proximity and as a result, accessing your data is very quick. One or more computers may be connected to a local network. For decades, the computer industry functioned using only local computing—everything was downloaded and stored on a hard drive or server. Many people still believe local networks are superior to networks in the cloud.
In addition, network attached storage (NAS) hardware and residential servers are not part of the cloud. If you store data on a home or office network, it does not count as using the cloud—even if you’re accessing your data remotely, over the Internet.
Some Examples of Cloud Computing
Most people are “on the cloud” whether they’re aware of it or not. Updating your status on Facebook, checking a bank account balance on an application on your phone, or editing a document shared on Dropbox are all examples of cloud computing.
Small business owners also use cloud computing—to manage workload, track income and expenses, and send emails or share calendars. For many business owners, the cloud has quickly become the new normal.
What are the benefits of cloud computing?
Cloud computing has a number of attractive benefits for both individuals and companies alike. These include:
- Flexibility. Cloud-based applications and software are ideal for businesses that have constantly changing demands.
- Data recovery. Cloud computing can help businesses—and especially small businesses—to easily back up and recover their files and data. The methods are less costly than backing everything up physically.
- Automatic software updates. Since the software is not on your hard drive, regular software and security updates are not your problem. You don’t have to maintain the system for it to work seamlessly.
- Cuts the cost of hardware. When you store and access data remotely, you don’t need to purchase hardware. You can use a subscription-based model that fits your needs.
- More environmentally friendly. Since data is not stored physically, it no longer requires a physical element, such as a hard drive. That means that less hardware is used.