The Cloud: What It Is and What You Need to Know About It

For most folks, thinking of the cloud evoked thoughts of billowy white objects in the sky. Then technology caused a big storm when cloud computing came along to turn the cloud into a nebulous concept. Pun intended.

The Cloud

“The cloud” is short for “cloud computing.” It refers to software, data, and services that run online on the Internet. Before the cloud, people managed this locally on their own computers. The problem with this is access.

Before the cloud, when using your work computer at the office, you couldn’t get to the data on your computer at home. In this scenario, users save data to media like a disk or USB drive. They bring that disk or drive to work to access the data. This process grows tedious. It also puts the computer and company network at risk for viruses and malware.

How Netflix Is a Cloud App

The cloud makes it possible to access your data from anywhere with any device. Examples of cloud apps are Netflix, Dropbox, and Google Drive. Netflix customers have a login. They can enter in a computer’s web browser and start watching videos.

If they go on vacation, they can watch Netflix without taking their computer. All they have to do is go online to on a device’s web browser or use the Netflix app. The Netflix service is in the cloud. All you need is a connected device and you can access it. It’s possible to download a movie or other media for offline watching. Before traveling, people will download a moved from Netflix to watch on the plane.

You can start watching a Netflix movie on your desktop. Then, switch to your phone and pick up where you left off in the movie. Users watching a series with multiple episodes can see which episodes they’ve watched. Netflix being a cloud app makes this cross-device continuity possible.

Google Drive for File Storage and Collaboration

The same goes for Google Drive cloud storage. You can save your files there and easily share them with friends, family, coworkers, and others. Google takes it a step further. It offers Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, and other apps. All of these apps run in the cloud. You can use them on most connected devices.

Some cloud apps are software as a service (SaaS). It’s software that runs in the cloud. Examples of SaaS include Salesforce, WordPress, Mailchimp, and Slack. These allow teams to access them from anywhere.

Open Google Drive and double-click any file. If it’s a document, it’ll open in Google Docs. There, you can read the document. If you have the right permissions, you can also edit it. The way you access Google Drive is either through a web browser or downloading the Google Drive app.

Advantages of Using the Cloud

When people get a new computer, they don’t have to install cloud apps to the computer. It’s already in the cloud. Just log in and use it. The same goes for the files. They can view and edit files saved to the cloud.

While computers and devices come out with more storage every day, it doesn’t take much to fill them up. When you’re low on hard drive space, you can use cloud storage to save files in the cloud instead of on your computer. People also use the cloud to back up their local hard drives. That way if anything ever happens to their data, it’s safely backed up somewhere in the cloud.

Many schools rely on Chromebooks for their affordability and portability. They tend to have a smaller hard drive. Chromebooks provide the basics: a screen, keyboard, and Wi-Fi access. The cloud serves up the rest.

Another advantage of using cloud computing services is the high performance of the remote servers. They have a lot of computing power. Photo editing can be a drain on computer performance causing it to slow down. But it’s typically not a problem in the cloud. Still, you’re using the cloud app or accessing it through a web browser. Both of these can burden the resources on your computer or device. 

Disadvantages of Using the Cloud

The cloud isn’t without its disadvantages. The big one is that if you don’t have a good Internet connection, you may not be able to access your cloud apps and files.

There’s also the risk of outages. A few large cloud services have gone down or been hacked. In 2017, Amazon’s storage service outage affected Slack, Quora, IMDb, and American Airlines. Microsoft Azure, a platform as a service (PaaS), also went offline in 2014. PaaS is a service or application platform that allows users to develop, run, and manage applications.

The cloud also eats up data. This is a problem for those with devices or Internet connections that have a data limit.

Once data enters the cloud, you have less control over it. People have deleted photos from their iPhones only to find out hackers can access them from the cloud. Deleting a file from the cloud does not always mean it’s 100 percent gone.

A huge disadvantage for companies who depend on the cloud is privacy. They’re beholden to the cloud service provider’s policies. For instance, the authorities may not need a warrant to access files stored in the cloud. It depends on the cloud service provider’s geographic location and its local laws. A cloud service in the U.K. follows different laws than one in the U.S.

Costs of Using the Cloud

Most cloud storage services offer a limited amount of free space. Once users exceed that space, they pay a monthly or yearly fee. The same goes for backup services. Software as a service (SaaS) can be free, fee, or both. For instance, Mailchimp has a basic plan that’s free. The catch is that it only allows you to have a mailing list of up to 2,000 contacts. As expected, the free plan does not include any kind of tech support and comes with the fewest features. And the company’s logo appears in the footer. To get tech support and remove the branding in the footer requires upgrading to a paid plan.

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