What The Heck Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud Computing BillboardThere’s a lot of talk about clouds these days and it’s got nothing to do with the weather. No, it’s the fancy buzz term in the computer world — drive around Silicon Valley and you’ll even see it mentioned on billboards. What happened to the good old days of simple car and beer advertisements on billboards?

Cloud computing isn’t anything to be afraid of, though. In fact, it could save you time and money, along with backup headaches. Imagine, a big computer in the sky (erm, clouds — get it?) that you can connect to for spreadsheets, word processing, digital photos, etc. — that’s what cloud computing is. You may have gotten a taste of it without even knowing it. Have you experimented with Google Docs and thought, “Wow, this works just like Microsoft Office but I don’t have to pay for the expensive software”? Have you shared photos on Flickr or Picasa? Presto, you’ve used cloud computing — or, in more technical terms, you’ve accessed an application via the Internet, then saved data (document, photos, etc.) that you can retrieve from any computer with an Internet connection. That’s cloud computing.

What’s the upside to this? Your documents are always backed up and accessible, and most of the time, there’s no subscription fee for basic usage (premium features usually have one). You can also easily share and collaborate, which makes it far easier to work with. The downside to this is that your files obviously require an Internet connection for access. Any issues with your Internet provider mean that you may not be able to get your file — a pain when working on a tight deadline. And if your Internet provider is unreliable, and the speed of data access can be affected by server hiccups.

However, with the advent of broadband Internet connections, cloud computing is becoming more and more mainstream. It may not replace the applications on your laptop just yet, but that day is approaching — and it’s nothing to be afraid of.