The term cloud refers to a computing resource, like a Web site or application, that exists on the Internet and is not located on a personal computer or personal computing device like a tablet. You’ve probably used a cloud service for years without knowing it, if you’ve ever used a Web site to find directions with a map.
Maps – an example of how the Cloud works
For example, on your local computer, smartphone, or tablet (I’ll refer to all personal devices as computers), the first step is to open the Web site for the map service (like Google maps, MapQuest, or Bing) in the Web browser on your local computer.
Once the Web site appears in your browser, it’s usually just a matter of entering a ‘from” address location and a “to” address location and clicking on a button. Your computer sends the address information to the Web site via the Internet, and the computer on the other end (Google’s Bing’s, Yahoo’s, MapQuest, etc.) calculates the directions and sends back the results to your computer to display on your computer screen.
They key to understanding the “cloud” is to understand which computer did the work, or in more technical langauge, provided the services. Was it your local computer that calculated the directions (NO), or the computers operated by the Web site that you used (YES!). The Web site provided a service (calculating the directions and creating a map) and sent the data to your computer, which only had to display the results on your screen (much less work than figuring directions). You’ve used the cloud to find directions and maps.
Why do we hear so much about the Cloud now?
Consumers and businesses have access to the Internet in more places, and we have more devices, like smartphones and tablets, that are portable and can access the Internet. So besides maps, we can access almost any Web site and if it can do work for us over the Internet, it’s a cloud service.
Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are big companies and they all want you to use their cloud for storage of your data, and if you buy books from Amazon, use a Web email service from Google or Microsoft like gmail or hotmail, or use an iPhone or iPad, you’re might already using a cloud service to store books, music, documents, and more. The good news is that many of them make services available for free, the bad news is that they don’t work together so you’ll have to see which one you like best, which will probably be the one that works best with your devices and applications.