Ask Deemable Tech: What Is The Cloud?
Alex asks, "You mentioned a few weeks ago that people could back up their information to 'the Cloud'. I hear that term thrown around a lot, but what does it actually mean? What is 'the Cloud'?"
That’s actually a great question, Alex. The funny thing is, most of us have actually been using "the Cloud" for years now. Anyone who has ever used an email service like Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail has already used the Cloud. For a normal, non-technical user, “the Cloud" is just storing your data on the Internet instead of just on your home computer.
However, the actual technical definition of a cloud is a little more complicated than that. You see, the danger with storing documents, media or files on any single computer is that no matter how powerful they are, computers can (and do) break. But imagine if you could store your file on three different computers. Then if one or even two broke, you’ve still got your document. The only problem is, every time you updated your document, you would have to update it on all three computers. That's a pain.
But now imagine that you could treat those three physical computers as one virtual computer that your file is stored on. The actual, physical computers would essentially become invisible. Take this setup and multiply it by hundreds of computers, and that’s basically what a cloud is.
Now, you may have noticed that we said “a cloud.” The reason is that there are actually multiple clouds. In fact, tons of different companies offer their own clouds. They may work differently from each other, but they are all similar in that they allow you to store your files on the Internet instead of your computer, and they allow you to access those files from anywhere.
So how does this affect you? For most of us, cloud services are a really great way to back up documents, pictures, music or whatever to the Internet. And once it’s out on the Internet, you can access it from other computers or devices you own. For example, we use Google Music to back up the MP3s on our computers. All we had to do is download the Google Music program, and it automatically started uploading everything we had in iTunes to the Google Music cloud. When we add a new song or playlist to iTunes on our computers, those get uploaded too, and we can then listen to them on our phones straight from the Internet.
Clouds aren’t just good for music, though. Google and Microsoft both offer ways to do word processing in the Cloud, from anywhere, without even having to install a program. Google has a web application called Google Drive (we use it for Deemable Tech and love it), and Microsoft has introduced Office 365 which you can access through your web browser as well.
For Apple users, there is iCloud, which automatically synchronizes your files across all of your Apple devices.
If you’re looking to backup and share your files, Alex, you should consider using Dropbox. We’ve mentioned it before, but Dropbox is a service that allows you to select a folder on your computer, and anything you put in that folder will be automatically uploaded to the Dropbox cloud. If you install Dropbox on another computer, it will automatically mirror the folders between the two computers. There are a lot of other excellent cloud services as well (like EverNote, SpringPad and SugarShare), and there are more out there every day.
In a nutshell, why should you care about “the Cloud”? Because the Cloud allows robust backups of any data that’s important to you, and it makes that data accessible not just on one computer, but on any computer or device that you authorize. You know, pretty much just like email.