What is cloud computing?

In this two-part article, we are going to explain what is meant by cloud computing. Then, stayed tuned for a follow-on to this when we discuss cloud computing in more detail, including the security of the information you store in the cloud.

What is cloud computing?

“To the cloud?” says the TV commercial, but for all of the money spent on this type of advertising, most people still do not know what cloud computing really means. In fact, a recent study from market research company The NPD Group found that only 22 percent of U.S. consumers were familiar with the term "cloud computing".

However, even though they don’t know the term, consumers are engaging in cloud computing. The NPD Group found that more than three quarters of U.S. respondents had used a cloud service in the past 12 months.

Cloud computing is a relatively simple concept. When you put your information on social media sites, this is cloud computing. When you store information, like music, photos, email and documents, on the Internet, this is cloud computing.

Very simply put, any time you do web-based activities where you are storing information somewhere other than your own personal computer or server it can be considered to be “in the cloud.”

Here are some examples of cloud computing activities that you may engage in regularly:

  • • Using an Internet email provider, such as Gmail
  • • Accessing work files and software through a web portal
  • • Using Twitpics to share your photo on Twitter, or uploading a video on Facebook
  • • Uploading your music to a service like Spotify
  • • Collaborating with friends or colleagues using Google Docs
  • • Accessing your web-based email from a mobile device, such as a tablet or a phone
  • • Uploading your photos to Snapfish or other photo-sharing sites
  • • Storing your files online with a service like Dropbox

Cloud computing is very convenient because it allows you to access your data and services from any computer, tablet or smartphone at any time so it doesn’t matter if you don’t have your device with you. For organizations, storing data in the cloud with a provider is more cost effective than having a whole IT team managing software and servers in-house.

Now that you know what the cloud is, you may be asking, “Where is the cloud?” All over the world, really. The cloud is really just many servers, sometimes called a “server farm” or “server cluster.” Every company that offers a web service has servers to store the data. Time Magazine recently offered readers a glimpse at Facebook’s server farm, which holders tens of thousands of servers.

If you are engaging in cloud-based activities, you are placing a high level of trust with the cloud providers to keep your information safe and private. The second part of this article answers the question, “Is cloud computing secure?” Stay tuned!

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