What is the Cloud? | Planet Ryan

As the self-appointed technology go-to person in my circle of influence, I find myself explaining (or attempting to explain) all the new jargon and buzzwords we hear from the internet tech sector every year.

That being said, one question I’ve received on multiple occasions is, “What do they mean by The Cloud?” Even after a quick explanation, I still see a slight look of confusion. So I thought I would utilize my column space in an attempt to give a general overview of what “The Cloud” is, so you can sound like a guru at work when someone asks you about it.

The term cloud computing is actually a phrase from back in the 60’s. When companies and corporate types would make diagrams and charts, they would use an image of a cloud to symbolize the internet. But it really caught on and made a comeback around 2006-07, when one of the Google founders referred to cloud computing and then Amazon.com launched its extremely popular cloud computing platform.

So what is it? Well, more than likely you use the cloud every day in some way, shape or form. If you post on social networks, or back up your data to one of the online storage services, or even check your email online through a web-based system such as Gmail, you’re using “the cloud.” The term “cloud” was sort of twisted into a marketing term by all the big internet companies out there, not only because it sounds cool, but also because gives you a general idea of what it is.

For instance, there are pretty much three basic cloud services; storage, software and computing power. For the sake of simplicity, I won’t get into the computing power sector. But for your average consumer, cloud storage is probably the one that will be something you eventually use.

Let me explain. Before cloud storage, individuals and companies use physical hard drives and servers to store all of their data and software (like Microsoft Office). So think of a company that stores a lot of documents and data over time – they fill up hard drives and run the risk of losing or eventually damaging them. With cloud storage, all of a company’s data would be stored “in the cloud” on remote servers offered by big companies such as Google, Amazon or Microsoft, who have massive physical data centers which store everything. That way, the data will always be there, and it’s scalable so you can increase your storage limits as much as one will ever need too.

It’s the same idea with cloud software. Instead of a company (or individual) storing increasingly large software programs on their physical computers or servers, the big cloud computing companies offer you a chance to store it on their cloud and allow you to access it from anywhere using the internet.

For a prime example, I’m actually using Microsoft Office Live to write this column, which is a cloud version of the popular software. So in other words I don’t have to bog down my hard drive with a large program. Instead, I can access this cloud version of full-featured MS Office from any computer with an internet connection, anytime, anywhere, and I can even save my documents to the Microsoft cloud and have them there for eternity. Cool, right?

It’s still relatively young, but already a multi-billion dollar industry, so it’s definitely something you will hear a lot more about in the future as more consumers and companies transition to it. Right now, as it stands, I suppose a good term for the internet in relation to this technology would be “partly cloudy.”

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