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On Cloud Nine: Nine FAQ’s About Cloud Computing, Answered

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Giants Amazon, Google, IBM, Dell, and HP offer services to companies worldwide using the cloud. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter connect people through the cloud. Email, task management systems, document sharing sites, and photograph hosting – many of our everyday tasks are accomplished using cloud technology.

What exactly is “the cloud,” that elusive phrase you keep hearing, and how does it differ from the Internet we use every day? If confusion over cloud computing looms over you like a thunderstorm just waiting to break, let me offer an umbrella to shield you from the torrent. The concept of cloud computing is not new, and it doesn’t have to hide the sunshine from view. This is the age of education and embrace of new technologies.

For those who are unfamiliar with cloudy vocabulary, here are nine frequently asked questions and some answers to help you wrap your mind around this fluffy idea.

1.       Can you sum up cloud computing in a quick sentence?

Think about clouds as the next step in our Internet progression as a culture. First there was the Web, available to everyone on devices with Internet access. Next came the cloud, a more customized web experience for Internet users.

Cloud Computing for Dummies calls cloud computing “the next stage in the Internet’s evolution, providing the means through which everything… can be delivered to you as a service wherever and whenever you need.”

With the web, we stored data on on-site servers. Now with cloud, data is stored externally and businesses take advantage of sophisticated services provided through cloud technology that utilizes their data.

2.       What’s so unique about cloud computing?

In the past, when someone wanted to use software, they had to install it on their hardware in order to use it. In contrast, the platform for cloud computing is managed elsewhere, and tons of businesses and people have access to it. Instead of one company owning and having to manage its every aspect, many companies benefit from the technology and services providing, having more time and energy to focus on their business.

Think about your social media usage. You don’t install Facebook or Twitter in order to use it, but you can access it on your phone or desktop. Social media comes from the cloud. So does a service like Google Drive, which allows you to access documents on any device at any time, which are not stored on your computer but in the cloud.

3.       What are the main advantages to cloud-based applications?

Cloud technologies offer numerous benefits, but two of the main ones are that cloud technologies are more flexible to fit the needs of consumers, and they are a more environmentally responsible solution. They are easily accessed from all kinds of devices. Users do not have to understand the actual technology behind them, simply using often sophisticated technologies and letting maintenance be someone else’s problem. In other words, cloud-based technology offers impressive benefits without the frustrating headaches of managing the technology.

You can also imagine that sharing the cloud is better for the environment because it requires less physical hardware.

4.       What types of cloud-computing are there?

The main categories of cloud computing include the following:

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): When a vendor provides services to a client based on the resources they need for their business (servers, software, data center), and bills them accordingly.

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): Developers design an application for users, and it is provided to users from a provider’s infrastructure.

Software-as-a-service (SaaS): Customers use an application that requires no investment in servers or software licensing. A vendor runs and updates it for you. You just connect to the software and use it.

5.       How does cloud computing affect my business?

Utilizing cloud computing offers your company all the benefits listed above, and it may save your company operational costs if you are able to focus on meeting IT goals instead of training employees on the hardware/software, troubleshooting, and fixing it when it goes down. Cloud-based applications are potentially cheaper because maintenance and support are the responsibility of the cloud provider, and not your IT department. It can be a great option for businesses without a huge IT budget, as well as for companies who don’t want to deal with the headache of adding infrastructure and licensing new software for the company.

6.       Where does the cloud come from?

Umm… this is reminding me of the “where do babies come from, Mommy?” question, and in a similar fashion, I’m not sure how to explain this one to you. I hope you know the cloud we’re talking about is a hypothetical cloud, an image used to help us visualize how people can access cloud-based applications on a device while the software and data for it are stored elsewhere. Basically, the cloud represents the network. It’s a term we’ve used to describe the Internet for a while, but now with cloud computing refers to this slightly more defined idea of virtual servers you can access on the Web.

It’s a simplified picture for a complex idea. Go ask your Dad.

7.       Are there any negatives to cloud computing? It sounds pretty good.

You can probably guess that the idea of cloud computing may cause people to think that their data is out of their control. Availability of data is a concern for some people, because if the main cloud collapses, your data will not be accessible.

With data stored in the cloud, some businesses can also worry that unwelcome people could access to their data. However, stealing data is harder than it sounds. Most data is stored in identical machines with labels that lack much helpful description, and finding the right data to steal would be a complicated process. With regards to data that you access via password, people have control over creating great, un-guessable passwords. According to this infographic on the safety of cloud computing, there are over 984 quadrillion possible 10 character passwords.

All in all, hacked data is usually the fault of people, not technology. See that infographic for more information.

8.       Is cloud-based the same as web-based?

No, although this is a point of confusion for a lot of people! Cloud-based services are often used through web browsers, but conversely, not all web-based services are cloud-based. A lot of people mis-label their technology as “cloud-based” because it’s popular and it’s a word that people throw around. But true cloud-based technology goes beyond the web to deliver customized services, functionality, and a depth of opportunities.

If you’ve used the popular apps Evernote or Dropbox, you’ve used a cloud-based app. Web email also depends on cloud technology, like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft Hotmail. These can be set up to be available off-line if people want them to be.

Web apps have to be used from a web browser, like Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer. The benefit is obviously that you can get on it anytime and anyplace. Some examples are your bank, online stores, and Amazon.

You can use a cloud app from a web browser, but not every web app is a cloud app. Does that make sense?

9.       How do I know if my company’s ready for cloud-based software?

Great question. The fact that this kind of software offers so many benefits makes it a tempting offer for companies. At the same time, not every company is ready for this kind of future-oriented technology. Considering your company’s ability to integrate new technologies, as well as willingness to work with third-party providers on your support and data housing, is the first step. Understanding the benefits of cloud technology and specific technologies that could profit your company over the long run is the next.

Has this blog post left you feeling cloudy? If you’re not floating on cloud nine, I hope that you’re at least one step closer to comprehending the cloud.

Featured images:
  •  License: Image author owned
    Brooke McDonald is a writer and blogger for Spicer-Baer Associates, creators of My Department Plan, business budgeting software to help businesses track, report, and plan their finances better.
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