What is The Cloud?

Cloud computing, or 'the cloud' is a fancy marketing term that we hear all over the place. There is no specific definition and different companies might mean different things when they claim to provide cloud computing. The term works because it is a promise of having less to worry about. Companies and individuals who use 'the cloud' no longer have to worry about storing data. The data is off in a cloud somewhere and someone else is dealing with it. It is marketing at its finest.

In reality all computer data is stored on a computer somewhere. Cloud computing usually just means storing data somewhere other than a local harddrive. This data can then be accessed over the Internet. Instead of the data residing on the computer of the user the data is often found on the harddrive of a remove server in a data center somewhere.

That's all there is to it. Cloud is just a nicer way of saying remote. When someone says cloud computing, they could just as easily say 'remote computing'.

This does not necessarily make the data more secure or easier to maintain. All it means is that someone else somewhere else is responsible for it. It might be more secure. Data centers usually have good security. There might be backups of the data at multiple data centers. Keeping data backed up in a remote location is always a good idea. The servers on which the data is stored is usually shared by multiple users, meaning that the costs of expensive servers become more affordable. But the servers are still computers just like any other and need to be maintained, just like any other computer.

Paying for cloud computing is paying for the use of someone else's remote computers and someone else's maintenance of those computers. There are plenty of times where this is a great idea. However, one should not expect data to be 100% secure or 100% dependable when it is stored in the cloud. A great example of cloud computing going terribly wrong was CodeSpaces.com. This was a website similar to github or bitbucket where users were able to host projects and code on a remote server. CodeSpaces claimed to be fully resilient and had a "proven" recovery plan in case of data loss. What happened was someone hacked them. The hacker then attempted to extort money from them. When CodeSpaces refused to pay, the hacker destroyed all their data and all their backups. This shut CodeSpaces down and all their customers lost all their data.

CodeSpaces was a respectable cloud backup and hosting solution which failed miserably. Other cloud computing services provide valuable services to their users. Salesforce is a cloud computing company specializing in customer relationship management (CRM). Cloud services are only as good as the people running them.

Cloud computing is great for many things. It is a good way to backup data remotely. It is fantastic if multiple people need access to a single data source. It's good for companies which do not have their own system administrator or IT department to manage local computing. Just be aware that cloud computing is not magic. It is just remote computing.