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Cloud Computing for Idiots
In recent years, cloud computing has become a buzzword for a concept that is not technologically revolutionary. “Cloud” is essentially a marketing term for outsourcing data on remote servers. Instead of saving or storing your files on a local device, like your desktop or laptop, it is stored on the internet.
The main advantage is that you are able to access your data from any computer connected to the internet and sync it on multiple devices. The savings are numerous in terms of hard disk space, computer resources, time and money. With the cloud, users can freely access their documents without worrying about the device they use.
Examples of use
Cloud computing is available to everyone, from businesses to private individuals. It allows users to accomplish tasks that couldn’t be done before by preserving data when swapping devices.
Imagine that you start a project on your computer at work. With cloud computing, you can very simply deport that project and continue it from your laptop at home without the need to transfer any file or even download any software.
Fans of online games know this practice very well: they can start a game of Xbox Live on their Xbox console, and then continue to play it on their mobile phone. Apple’s iCloud service has taken the concept even further by allowing you to sync your files and media between all your Apple devices: take a picture on your iPhone, sync it with iCloud, and it will be on your iPad or MacBook the next time you use them.
Such services have been in use for quite some time already. This is how Deezer and Spotify make your music available anywhere from the same account, or how Gmail handles your mailbox no matter which device you check your mail from.
How safe is cloud computing?
Like any system, cloud computing has its weak points. Because it’s based on the web, the cloud shares the same risks and complications as the internet. Full access to its applications often requires a robust and stable internet connection. If your equipment is dated or you are in a low coverage area, you will be hard pressed to enjoy the real benefits of the cloud.
Safety is also a main concern and to understand that, we must first understand how cloud computing is built. It may be called cloud computing but the computing resources are very much on earth. They are located in giant data centers which can reach ten times the size of a football field and that house thousands of machines. These centers are built to the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, which means that hosting them remains the prerogative of only a handful of corporations like Google, Microsoft, IBM or Amazon.
This infrastructure raises a string of safety issues. The company responsible for the service must protect your data to prevent any intrusion by malicious people, but it remains the user’s responsibility to encrypt their data in the first place. Similarly, since files can be shared between different data centers, it’s impossible to know where, and how remotely, they are stored physically.
Another issue is the lack of interoperability between services. This is the great irony of cloud computing: as simple as it is to access your file from any device or location, transferring your files from one cloud computing host to another is close to impossible due to the lack of technological standards in the industry.
The main security issue for individuals using cloud computing, especially in light of such recent developments as the revelations about the Prism surveillance program, is data confidentiality. A file stored on your computer would, in theory, only be seen by you, but a file stored in the cloud could become available to anyone who has the authority to request it.
The future of cloud computing
Cloud computing has been growing rapidly in the past couple of years. A convenience for individual users, it has also become an asset for businesses who can now outsource their IT resources and infrastructure. It has also become an environmental issue: by remotely storing data, the cloud has reduced the need for massive local infrastructure or computing usage. But to keep up with its increasing popularity, more data centers are needed, to the point where Greenpeace now estimates that their proliferation will soon contribute to the increase in greenhouse emissions.