Here at the Borough of West Chester this week we moved our phone service into “the cloud” with Microsoft’s Skype for Business. What does this mean and what is the cloud? Here I will describe what “the cloud” is and later we can talk about our new exciting Skype for Business service.
These days I have fielded many questions about “the cloud”. The term “cloud” is actually not all that accurate and often serves to confuse and scare people. So what is “the cloud” anyway?
In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is simply a metaphor for the Internet, nothing more. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the gigantic server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.
Explaining “The Cloud”
What “the cloud” simply is – when data and applications are stored… elsewhere, other then your local computer or network.
When you store data on or run programs from the hard drive, that’s called local storage and computing. With local storage everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy, for that one computer, or others that are on your local network. Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades. However during the past several years there has been a major shift towards “the cloud”.
The cloud offers mobility, smaller local infrastructures and even smaller technology staffs. So you can see why many users, large and small are attracted to “the cloud”.
For it to be considered “cloud computing,” you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet, or at the very least, have that data synced with other information over the Web. With an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime.
The lines between local computing and cloud computing can get very blurry. That is because the cloud is everywhere and many things we do are there and we do not even realize it. You can easily have a local piece of software such as Microsoft Office that utilizes a form of cloud computing for storage (Microsoft OneDrive).
That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web-based apps, Office Online, that are Internet-only versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote accessed via your Web browser without installing anything. That makes them a version of cloud computing.
Cloud Service Examples
Google Drive: This is a pure cloud computing service, with all the storage found online so it can work with the cloud apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Drive is also available on more than just desktop computers; you can use it on tablets like the iPad or on smartphones, and there are separate apps for Docs and Sheets, as well. In fact, most of Google’s services could be considered cloud computing: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Maps, and so on.
Apple iCloud: Apple’s cloud service is primarily used for online storage, backup, and synchronization of your mail, contacts, calendar, and more. All the data you need is available to you on your iOS, Mac OS, or Windows device (Windows users have to install the iCloud control panel). Naturally, Apple won’t be outdone by rivals: it offers cloud-based versions of its word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers), and presentations (Keynote) for use by any iCloud subscriber. iCloud is also the place iPhone users go to utilize the Find My iPhone feature that’s all important when the handset goes missing.
Amazon Cloud Drive: Storage at the big retailer is mainly for music, preferably MP3s that you purchase from Amazon, and images—if you have Amazon Prime, you get unlimited image storage. Amazon Cloud Drive also holds anything you buy for the Kindle. It’s essentially storage for anything digital you’d buy from Amazon, baked into all its products and services.
The Hybrid Cloud
Hybrid services like Box, Dropbox, and SugarSync all say they work in the cloud because they store a synced version of your files online, but they also sync those files with local storage. Synchronization is a cornerstone of the cloud computing experience, even if you do access the file locally.
It is also considered cloud computing if you have a community of people with separate devices that need the same data synced, be it for work collaboration projects or just to keep the family in sync. For more, check out the The Best Cloud Storage and File-Syncing Services for 2016.
The Wild, Wild Cloud
There is no central body governing use of the cloud for storage and services. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is trying to deal with this. It created an IEEE Cloud Computing Initiative in 2011 to establish standards for use, especially for the business sector.
Cloud computing like so much about the Internet is a little bit like the wild west, where the rules are made up as you go, and you hope for the best. It is because of this that you are safe in the cloud, if you stick with the big players like Microsoft, Apple, Google & Amazon.