What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is all around us, and you’re probably using it without even knowing. You may not be aware that you are using it, but it is highly likely that you are in many more ways than you think. The easiest way to think about cloud computing is to consider it as an application that does not sit on your computer, but on the internet instead. You do not need to know the exact location of the software or associated data and instead can access all of the information as you would with locally stored data on your computer.

The fact that the information is remote offers many advantages because this makes it available to a variety of devices, including desktops, smartphones and tablets, and they can all be kept in sync all of the time. Clouds can be public and accessible by anyone or they can be set up by companies for secure private use with the ability to distribute information and software remotely. The speed of modern mobile and fixed networks has enabled these facilities to become reality and you really do forget that you are using the internet to connect to your data. It almost feels magical how all of your information is seamlessly available on all of your devices whenever you need it and the cloud is without doubt going to be the future of all computing.

Even the largest companies are jumping on the cloud bandwagon these days, which is exemplified by the release of Google Drive. It is one of a number of cloud solutions that let you work remotely and, in effect, it offers you an almost complete operating system online. Drive cannot only be used as a cloud storage account, but also a way of producing presentations and documents. It takes the parts of your work or home PC that you will use the most and places them online with copious amounts of storage available per company or user. Solutions like this work particularly well for small businesses, but can be scaled up ordown in almost any way.

The fact that these business-orientated services are in the cloud means that sharing files and data is now easier than ever before and that employees can collaborate seamlessly at any time, providing they have an internet connection available. In most cases, all you need to do is visit a URL, enter a username and password and you can use the system just as you would on Windows or Mac OS. You can also mimic the cloud by remotely accessing a desktop wherever you are. There are multiple solutions available that let you dial in to your home or work PC and see the screen on your mobile device.

Depending on the type of cloud service you want to use, there are a variety of low-cost options now available to you. Google, by default, offers a cloud service to users and so do the likes of Apple, Microsoft and many of the other big computing providers. Most solutions will be invisible to you and instead concentrate on merely offering specific features such as the Whispersync service from Amazon, but other specialist services are available – either from the providers described above or companies who offer bespoke cloud solutions. Access is almost always provided via a simple username and password setup and your main focus should be on the features available rather than the type of cloud setup each company uses.

Music is also available via many different cloud services. iTunes Match from Apple lets you synchronise all of the music you have stored on your PC with the cloud and you can then download any of these tracks when you want to listen to them. This gets around the age-old problem of space on mobile devices and, with a decent connection speed, effectively offers you gigabytes of storage to use whenever you like. Spotify takes the idea even further and lets you stream music from a library of millions of tracks to any computing device you own. A monthly subscription is required, but the cloud setup enables it to work extremely fast and the delays are so few that you feel as if you are playing tracks that are held on your device rather than remotely. Your favourite songs and history are stored in your account and you can even download tracks to play them offline if needed, which is a clever halfway-house for those who occasionally have connectivity problems.

The amount of data you use when utilising a cloud service is completely dependent on what exactly you are doing. Streaming a movie could use up hundreds of megabytes whereas synchronising a calendar will use very little data on a day-to-day basis. It is worth checking your needs, particularly when using mobile devices, as you can quickly blow your limit just by visiting YouTube or any other video-streaming service. Similar care should be taken when streaming or downloading music, but for day-to-day PIM management, including normal email use, you should only be using kilobytes of data rather than many megabytes. Dropbox and similar services will not incur data charges if people are downloading from your account, but will do when you upload or download files yourself.

Businesses can employ cloud computing in different ways. Some users maintain all apps and data on the cloud, while others use a hybrid model, keeping certain apps and data on private servers and others on the cloud. You’re probably using cloud computing right now, even if you don’t realise it. If you use an online service to send emails, edit documents, watch films or TV, listen to music, play games, or store pictures and other files, it’s likely that cloud computing is making it all possible behind the scenes.

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