I’ve written a great deal about cloud computing, but I’m still getting loads of questions on the subject. Yes, it’s a bit confusing, especially when geeks start throwing around jargon that floats right by nontechies. The issue I want to clarify is what precisely we mean when we refer to doing things in "the cloud."
Perhaps the simplest definition is that the "cloud" equals the Internet. If someone tells you an application is being executed in the cloud or a document you’re working on (say a Google doc) is stored in the cloud, it means the data is on a server (it could be anywhere) with which you are able to connect.
Although cloud-based services appear to be the latest fad, I wouldn’t dismiss it as such.
Cloud applications have been around for years. For example, there’s Mozy, a Utah-based company that backs up your data and stores it in a server far away from Hawaii. Then there are e-mail systems such as Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail (which are often called "web mail"). Both of these, as well as similar web mail systems, operate "in the cloud" but until recently were never referred to as "cloud services."
So what accounts for the cloud frenzy?
The way I see it, there’s a sort of a perfect storm or confluence of events that makes cloud services a practical, popular thing to do. The technology is there to store vast amounts of data cheaply (think Google Mail), faster connections to get at the data, and a real need to share and collaborate (think Facebook). As Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal said, "It just makes a whole lot more sense to store things (especially big documents like photos) in places other than your iPhone or your Netbook."
Whereas earlier corporations or big businesses would gravitate toward cloud services to store data (think financial institutions), nowadays average businesses do the same. My friends rave about Google Mail and Google docs because wherever they are, they can get at their data without even their laptop with them. It just makes sense to leverage cloud services because the odds of your laptop or storage drive crashing or getting stolen are a lot greater than Google losing your data.
What’s more, the cloud is vendor-neutral. Unlike your mobile phone, the Internet doesn’t care what carrier you use.
The cloud also makes life easier for Hawaii road warriors. Even if your laptop or netbook isn’t handy, all you need is an Internet cafe and your thumb drive with your docs, and you’re in business.
Of course the caveat is that you’re more dependent on the Net. While that’s not a big deal here in Hawaii, when you travel overseas to places like Fiji or Tahiti where Internet services aren’t as dependable or ubiquitous, you might be in trouble.
Nothing is perfect, but I sure like the direction cloud computing is going.
Cliff Miyake, general manager in Honolulu for tw telecom, can be reached at Cliff.Miyake@twtelecom.com.