The mysterious “cloud.” It’s a buzzword so familiar to us in the 21st century technology bubble we live in, but most just smile and nod when it comes up in conversation (while we make a mental note to Google “the cloud” once we return to our desks).
It can be hard to explain the cloud in tangible terms (traditional clouds are quite literally over our heads). And that’s probably because the majority of the population is more concerned with convenience than comprehension. If we can easily access email from our phones, scroll through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and our Netflix streaming isn’t interrupted, we’re generally happy people.
But because I’ve made my career out of creating custom software solutions for businesses that often live in the cloud, I have a responsibility to at least introduce a basic understanding of the cloud and how it operates. (You won’t hear me refer to data configuration, cloud computing or SaaS in this article…okay, aside from that mention right there.)
So, what is the cloud?
Cloud data is information stored on servers (as opposed to information stored on your personal desktop, laptop or mobile device) accessible through the internet. The cloud is a physical thing; it’s a network of servers, and each server has a different function. Some servers use computing power to run applications while others deliver a service. Mashable gives this example:
“Adobe recently moved its creative services to the cloud. You can no longer buy the Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, etc.) in a box set. Instead, you must pay a monthly subscription fee to use each individual service. That's why it's now called the ‘Adobe Creative Cloud’ instead.”
Amazon, Microsoft and Google are also all internet-connected public clouds; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are consumer clouds that hold your pictures and social media posts. When you take a picture on your phone, it’s saved onto your phone’s internal memory drive, but when you upload the picture to Facebook, it’s uploaded to the cloud, allowing you access to the photo from any computer once you’ve signed in to your Facebook account.
How do businesses benefit from the cloud?
For businesses, the decision to move to the cloud was mostly financially motivated. Purchasing their own hardware to house all of the company’s files became expensive, and over time the hardware depreciated. With the creation of the cloud, companies could now simply pay for the storage and space they use.
Benefits from cloud computing include flexibility, mobility, increased collaboration and, maybe the most important, disaster recovery. Customer relationship management system Salesforce tells us that no matter how in control of your business you think you are, some things are simply out of your control:
“There may be no way for you to prevent or even anticipate the disasters that could potentially harm your organization; there is something you can do to help speed your recovery. Cloud-based services provide quick data recovery for all kinds of emergency scenarios—from natural disasters to power outages. While 20 percent of cloud users claim disaster recovery in four hours or less, only 9 percent of non-cloud users could claim the same.
How secure is the cloud?
As the risk of offering an unconstructive, somewhat worrisome statement, it should be mentioned that especially with the internet, nothing is 100 percent secure. No matter what. Recent headlines cover cyberattacks from celebrities’ personal phones to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, you should know that most attacks hit traditional servers, not the big public clouds.
Quentin Hardy of The New York Times shares that cloud protection is carried out by some of the world’s best computer scientists who are hired to think hard about our security, data encryption and the latest bout of online fraud. Plus, he makes a nice comparison:
“None of the most catastrophic hacks have been on the big public clouds. The same way that your money is probably safer mixed up with other people’s money in a bank vault than it is sitting alone in your dresser drawer, your data may actually be safer in the cloud: It’s got more protection from bad guys.”
There you have it: the easily digestible “cloud” comprehension guide, and hopefully the cloud is a little less mysterious. If the next time somebody asks, “So, what is the cloud?” and you’re able to do more than smile and nod, then my work here is done.
Scott Woodward is the executive vice president of business solutions at Blue Ocean Consulting, providing business software consulting services and helping companies find the right technology solutions to meet strategic needs. What has been your experience with “the cloud”? Share your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.