What is Cloud Computing?

Spend any time online these days, and it’s likely you will come across a rather fluffy term which conjures up images of blue skies and drifting white vistas. Welcome to the world of Cloud Computing, which is a rather sweet name for a highly useful piece of technology.

Cloud Computing, for the uninitiated among us, is the term used to describe an online network of computers that are there to offer you resources. The power of the network can be harnessed to bring you benefits in software functionality, computational support, or storage capabilities. In fact, although you might not have been aware of it, if you regularly use Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo!, your email data is already stored online using a Cloud Computing system.  Your email data is stored online so your inbox is freed up and you don’t use up as much memory on your computer.

With me so far? Great.

The Cloud Computing technology has hit the news recently for a few high-profile reasons. Amazon S3 suffered an outage which rendered their customers completely incapacitated for a while, and both the Sony Playstation network and Sony Online entertainment facility both experienced cloud failures which caused equal havoc among their service users. Because of highly visible outages such as these, people are becoming more aware of both the pitfalls and possibilities available through the Cloud Computing concept.

Despite the recent negative press, Cloud Computing is useful because, rather than housing everything on your local computer, you can lean on the resources of an online network, saving valuable space at home or at the office. Even though it takes a leap of faith to entrust your valuable data to an outside source, more and more businesses are realizing the potential of this service. If you choose an option such as the Amazon S3 service, you can back up all of your data online using the same flexible, low-cost, and scalable technology that the Amazon.com site relies upon.

If you want to give Cloud Computing a try, Amazon S3 is a good place to start as it offers a pay-as-you-go option that means you only pay for the resources you actually use. You also don’t have to sign up to any long-term commitments or contracts. You can scale your usage either up or down depending on the size of the resource you need, and it has the flexibility to let you choose which operating system to use, the programming language, and web application platform.

If you want something a little more comprehensive, it’s well worth checking out Google Docs. The search engine giants have developed a system that enables you to use a word processor, spreadsheet software, and presentation software – all housed online instead of on your own laptop or PC. Reliable and user-friendly, the principal advantage of using the system is that nothing is ever installed or housed on your computer, so you can access it anywhere and know that there’s no extra space being taken up on your hard drive that could be used for other valuable activities (such as storing photographs or downloading your favorite games).

The platform is free for users and accepts most file formats on the system which means you are pretty much unrestricted in terms of how you want to use it. Google Docs also has a range of templates for you to choose from, meaning you can start editing from the beginning or get a bit of guidance and save some time by letting them do all the preliminary hard work for you. With the ability to share and collaborate in real time with other people, store all of your information quickly and easily, and decide to whom you want to give access to your document repository, Google Docs is a highly popular choice for people wanting to benefit from Cloud Computing.

In summary, Cloud Computing comes in handy for a number of services:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – your email, perhaps CRM software.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – a computing platform you can use, such as Google’s App Engine where you can host your cloud applications.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – servers and software can be added or removed as needed rather than purchased, saving considerable costs.

If you’re still not convinced about the benefits of Cloud Computing, start somewhere simple such as the Amazon S3 service, and familiarize yourself with the concept and how it works before entrusting the rest of you data to the technology. Even if you haven’t heard the term before, the chances are you regularly benefit from Cloud Computing when you go online and use various sites, and the technology looks set to stick around as an ingenious space-saving device for many years to come.

As the Web becomes increasingly crowded, and new software and advances in technology mean our computers are cluttered with more software downloads than ever before, turning to the power of Cloud Computing seems like a natural progression in the order of things – reliable, space-saving, and efficient.