Everywhere you look people are talking about cloud computing, but what is it and why do you need it? We explain exactly how it works and how to start using it
One of the most irritating pieces of jargon to emerge in the last couple of years is ‘the cloud’: it seems almost everyone is talking about cloud products and services in TV adverts. But what precisely is the cloud and how can computer users benefit from it?
The cloud is nothing new or extraordinary, but many companies have sensed money-spinning opportunities, so the concept is being hyped in adverts.
Though there’s little mystery about it, many people are confused about ‘the cloud’. In this article we will explain what the cloud is and how it can make your life easier and more enjoyable.
What is the cloud?
The cloud is an umbrella term for products and services that rely on the internet to function – that’s pretty much it. While the term has become popular recently, the cloud has been around for a while.
If you access email online through webmail services such as Hotmail or Gmail, then you use cloud-based email. Online storage services such as Dropbox and Windows Live Skydrive exist in the cloud, while Google Docs is a cloud-based office suite.
The key difference is that, in most cases, the code that runs the software is stored on a web server and does not run from your PC’s hard disk. You interact with the application over the internet connection, usually over a web browser.
Cloud services are often free, supported by advertising or the lure of improved, premium packages. A good example of this is online storage. Dropbox, for instance, provides a free version of its cloud-storage service that includes 2GB of space for user files, with paid-for options for those needing more online storage.
Rather than keeping files solely on a PC, a cloud-storage service like Dropbox also puts copies online. Files held in cloud-storage services are accessed using a username and password.
Even though you’re accessing them via ‘the cloud’, such files do have a physical existence – on a server computer. It doesn’t matter where this server computer is: files stored in the cloud can be accessed anywhere, as long as there’s an internet connection.
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