by Dave Moore, 12-30-18
More and more often I find myself being asked an odd, but innocent, question: “Do I need a cloud?”
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a more over-hyped, yet lesser-understood term in the world of computing than “cloud.” What is “the cloud,” anyway, and why am I supposed to want one?
Simply put, a “cloud” refers to a group of computers, usually located on the Internet, that is being used to store files and/or allow customers to use “cloud-based” programs, such as Google Docs (Google’s online competition to Microsoft Word) or OneDrive (Microsoft’s online file storage service). Such scenarios are also called “cloud computing,” since your files and programs are actually located in “the cloud” (someone else’s Internet-based computers) rather than your own personal computer that you control directly.
There is no one, single “the cloud,” nor is “the cloud” an Apple product. Rather, there are many clouds, owned and operated by many different companies. Apple has a cloud service called iCloud. Amazon has a cloud service called Amazon Web Services. Verizon and General Electric also own cloud services, as well as Adobe, IBM, Dropbox, Carbonite and Oracle. The world’s biggest cloud service (this year) is run by Microsoft.
When you hear the term “cloud,” think “Internet-based computing.” That is, you are using programs, files and computing power located on someone else’s computers, rather than your own. You are renting (or, maybe getting for free) space on someone else’s computers to store your files, renting programs (like word-processing, email and database programs) located on someone else’s computers to get your work done, and using someone else’s computers to provide the processing power that makes it all happen.
Information “in the cloud” moves around from machine to machine, and is usually in many places at once, depending on whatever is required at the time. Like a living organism, old cells (computers) die off and are replaced by new cells in order to keep the whole thing going and sustain whatever information has been put there. Cloud computing is a brainiac concept, for sure, but, through brilliant programming and constant maintenance, it works; at least, most of the time.
One example of a public cloud is the popular online file backup service, Carbonite. Carbonite has thousands of computers controlled by powerful cloud software designed to backup your computer’s files and make sure they are never lost. The idea is that, since your data is stored on many different computers housed in multiple locations around the world, if one computer or location goes down for whatever reason, your files are still safe.
Cloud computing power has its drawbacks, however. Reliability is the number one concern, with security running a close second. If all of your files, programs, emails and databases live “in the cloud,” rather than actually existing in your computer, what happens when the cloud crashes and disappears? Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has called cloud computing “horrendous.” Said Wozniak, “With the cloud, you don’t own anything. The more we transfer everything onto the cloud, the less we’re going to have control over it”.
In October of 2012, Amazon’s EBS cloud service crashed, knocking numerous websites off line and causing permanent data loss for many users. Google’s cloud services have crashed more than once, causing millions of emails to vanish. Apple’s iCloud service crashed in May, 2012, leaving 15 million email users up in the air. Cox Communication’s email services crashed for four days right before Christmas of 2012, leaving millions of customers in at least 11 states without email service; this was especially hard on business customers during the holiday shopping season. Intuit’s cloud service crashed once, leaving thousands of Quicken and Quickbooks users hanging in the lurch. By all accounts, Intuit’s Quicken and Quickbooks cloud services crash multiple times every day.
Do the benefits of “the cloud” outweigh the risks? You’ll have to be the judge of that. Properly done, cloud services are reliable and secure. Still, I would prefer to see you use multiple computing strategies, rather than putting all your eggs in the cloud basket.
Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. As founder of the Internet Safety Group, he also teaches Internet safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.internetsafetygroup.com