DeVry University in the USA recently reported that 95% of people don’t know what the cloud is, despite having used it. This is scary. Scary because the cloud is here to stay.
It has changed the way we socialise, do business and consume content. Everybody’s talking about it: but do we really understand it?
It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s a cloud?
The cloud is designed to simplify our digital lives. It’s supposed to streamline the way we store, access and share data and eliminate the chore of working between multiple devices.
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Need to make a last-minute edit to a document but left your laptop at home? No worries. With the cloud you can make changes on the train with your smartphone and pick up where you left off on your desktop at work.
If you’re not sure whether you’re using the cloud, answer me this: have you ever …
- Used Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo mail?
- Downloaded a movie?
- Shared photos with friends?
- Streamed music?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ve used the cloud. In fact, if you’re currently logged into Facebook, listening to Spotify or checking your emails, you may well be using it right now.
Obviously, accessing your entire virtual record collection from anywhere in the world without needing 150GB of storage on your MP3 player is cool, but the cloud is much more than that: it’s important to businesses because it could eliminate the need for local data storage, back-up and, potentially, the local data security issues you may have to deal with.
Grey skies aren’t gonna clear up
Before we look at some specifics, let’s dispel a few myths. The cloud is not physical and it can’t be affected by poor weather. This seems obvious, but apparently 51% of those counted in DeVry University’s report believe stormy weather has an effect on cloud computing.
Put simply, the cloud is a place to store, access and share data via the internet. It means that all of your data (from documents to movies to music to photos through to personal and transactional data) can be accessed from any device, anywhere that you have an internet connection. So, no need for large amounts of storage locally on your device, or even locally on a closed network. And it’s growing.
According to DeVry University, “by 2016, 340 million more people will have moved to the cloud”. Right, so it’s definitely not just a fad, then.
It’s also worth noting the titanic amount of resources the world’s largest tech companies are devoting to developing services for the cloud.
Microsoft is investing 90% of its $8.6 billion R&D budget in improving its cloud computing technology. Apple has committed too, aggressively nudging its tribe of loyal followers towards iCloud. And 425 million people use Google’s Gmail every day.
So let’s take a look at some of the services these companies are developing for the cloud.
It’s hard to believe that this company, started with the grand intention of selling books, could be at the forefront of the cloud computing revolution, but it’s true. Amazon Web Services lets you run almost everything (from mobile apps and social games to enterprise applications and big data projects) in the cloud. This is particularly good news for businesses looking to lower infrastructure expenses without sacrificing productivity.
Along with Amazon, Google is at the top of the pecking order when it comes to cloud computing. Indeed, Google has so much going on in the cloud it would be a fool’s errand to try and sum it all up.
Google’s vision is for all computing to take place in the cloud. With Chrome, and the suite of Google apps (Check out Google Apps, Google App Engine, Google Cloud Storage and Google Drive for a taste of what Google offers in terms of cloud services), the Mountain View giant is seeking to remove most OS functionality from the device and have the whole shebang run through a browser – i.e. all your laptop will need to run is a browser, and every other program will run through that. In the cloud.
Gates et al. are throwing a lot at their cloud platform, Windows Azure, so they obviously think it’s pretty good. Microsoft says, “Azure enables you to quickly build, deploy and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers. You can build applications using any operating system, language or tool”.
Microsoft has also relaunched Hotmail as Outlook – in the cloud. Microsoft has improved its cloud offering a lot in the last few years, but time will tell if it’s got what it takes to compete with Amazon and Google, who have a massive head start.
Anyone who’s used an Apple computer or any iDevice in the last few years will have seen, heard and (probably) used iCloud. It’s Apple’s way of simplifying the often chaotic digital world and making it easy to sync all your data across devices.
You would hope, given Apple products’ reputation for just working, that iCloud would, well, just work. But Apple is curiously off the pace here, with iCloud working brilliantly within the Apple ecosystem, but outside of that, kinda sucking. So if you’re hoping for seamless transfer between your Apple tablet and mobile and Windows PC, think again.
This list wouldn’t be considered serious if it failed to mention the cross-platform, cloud-based digital organiser Evernote. You can use Evernote for just about anything: storing files, taking notes, managing projects, writing a journal or collecting photos. The best part is it integrates across your desktop, web and mobile life, allowing you to lead a truly wireless existence. And Evernote has even collaborated with hip notebook-maker Moleskine to make your physical notes sync with its system. Cool.
And the rest …
Dropbox is revolutionising the way we store our documents – I know a video production agency that pretty much runs off of Dropbox. Drafts is another productivity app in the vein of Evernote. JB Hi-Fi Now is taking on Spotify in the music streaming game. Everywhere you look, businesses are finding ways to do things more productively by utilising the cloud.
Time to buy an umbrella
There’s no escaping it: sunny days are (metaphorically) a thing of the past. The cloud is here and it’s time you start getting to know it.
You don’t need a meteorology degree. Just enough of an idea to not be the guy looking skyward anytime someone says iCloud.