Cloud Computing

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First of all, if it seems to you that “cloud” is an ambiguous, effervescent term whose definition has seemed to get – dare I say – cloudy with its increased use, then you would be correct. “Cloud” is an IT buzzword that essentially means whatever it is that the speaker wants it to mean, and is often used to describe large, complex, enterprise-level applications or websites. What you should take away from its use, however, is “data goes in → ???? → data comes out.” The ???? part is the cloud. You’ve probably seen diagrams like this:

Of course, images like this – that use a cloud outline to indicate the Internet at large or a system that is too large or complex or irrelevant to diagram out itself – are what lead to the popularization of the word. The end user is not meant or expected to understand what happens after their data leaves their hands or how it got back out again (sometimes that is by design). It just disappears into the cloud and returns again upon request. Magic!

Google Drive is a great example of cloud computing. Rather than saving a Word document to your local hard drive, you create and save documents to Google’s cloud. This means the document is retrievable from anywhere you have an Internet connection — your local computer, your smartphone, your work computer, etc. Some believe web applications like this will render operating systems increasingly irrelevant. Cloud hosting is another application of cloud computing.

Obviously, I’m sensitive about the use of the term, in large part because I think it leads to lazy language, inaccurate assumptions, and issues with data ownership. To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with a complex system; my problem is applying the word “cloud” to anything you don’t feel defining.

Lately, though, end-users (aka, consumers) are becoming more aware of how their data is handled in the “cloud.” Where they store it, how they use it, who has access to it, whether or not it’s protected and secure, whether or not it’s actually private to them (surprise!), and who actually owns it are no longer distant concerns for many Internet users — and that’s a good thing.

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