Welcome to ‘The Cloud’
Largely through Apple it seems, references to ‘the Cloud’ have been increasing over this past year. So what is ‘the Cloud’ and will it affect me in the years to come?
Really the Cloud is simply a concept or analogy to capture our imaginations. It is “up there”. But what does it do? Primarily it is a store of data – software, programs and information.
Running your Computer from the Cloud
Let’s consider the software/programs first. Some new computers are being produced with very little system software in them to run – the system software is in the Cloud. When your new computer turns on it links immediately to the Cloud and the software there runs your computer. This means that the space on your computer taken up with operating systems is minimal and start-up times are also minimal. Have you ever looked at the amount of space your Windows or Office operating systems take up on your computer? Have you ever sighed with frustration at the increasing length of time it takes to start up your computer with the more Windows or security system update downloads you’ve received? With the Cloud approach the ‘working (system) software’ is in the Cloud and not on your computer. Your computer will become more of a terminal than a working free-standing machine.
Linking your Devices
Apple has recently launched iCloud to enable Apple users to link their various devices. So you snap your photo on your iPhone, it gets carried to the Cloud and is immediately accessible and appears on your iPad or your iMac computer in the Office where you can edit it.
This sort of thing is already common as users of the cloud-storage service Dropbox illustrates. To use this go to www.dropbox.com and click the download button and follow the instructions. You’ll eventually have a ‘My Dropbox’ folder on your computer and all documents stored there will be available to your account wherever you are in the country and on any devices with Dropbox installed. Make changes to the documents in your Dropbox folder and they will appear on the other computer etc, wherever you are.
Cloud-printing technology also means that if you were away and wanted a hard copy printed back at home on a compatible printer, you can also do that, rather than sending it as an e-mail. The possibilities are increasing by the day.
Is there a Cloud?
No, of course not. Actually what happens is what happens all the time with the Internet. The Cloud is simply a Server (or Servers) that act as storage devices for you. You probably don’t know who they are or where they are – and you’re not concerned. A Server is simply a bigger and much, much faster computer than yours that can handle multiple users without loss of service. So the Cloud simply refers to Apple – or whoever else the provider might be – having a massive storage system hidden away somewhere in the world that you get connected to.
So what are the Pros and Cons?
Well the Pros we’ve already touched upon:
- Storage of operating systems means space released up on your computer and faster start up times
- Storage of data means access wherever you are and linking of your various devices
- Storage of data also means you don’t take up massive volumes of your computer’s hard drive with photos which are saved out there in the Cloud.
The Cons are more worrying and are fairly obvious:
- If you are running a device in an area where there is no Internet access you are without a computer (if you rely on Cloud operating systems)
- Similarly you lose contact with all the material you want.
- If hackers can break into the Cloud servers, there are privacy concerns.
- If the Cloud company goes bust you may lose all your data (Probably fairly unlikely).
- Similarly if the Cloud company has a fire in their Server room (fairly unlikely but always an outside possibility)
I suspect that some of us who are ‘belt and braces’ people will probably keep backups of all our materials on external hard drives etc. anyway, in the same way as some people still insist on keeping hard paper copies of data as well as having it on computer.
But basically, that’s what the Cloud is and we’ll hear more and more of it in the days to come. Happy computing!