Cloud computing is a technological buzzword that the majority of us have heard of before. However, most of us, especially those without a technological background, may not know what exactly cloud computing is and why we need it. Even the term itself seems extremely technical and sophisticated.
In this article, I’ll be highlighting the importance and necessity of cloud computing in a simplified manner. As a heads up, this article does not go in-depth into what cloud computing is all about – terms such as a public/private cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) will not be used.
What is Cloud Computing?
Let’s get started with the term itself. What exactly is Cloud Computing? According to Amazon Web Services, cloud computing is “the on-demand delivery of compute power, database, storage, applications and other IT resources via the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing”. The definition itself seems complex, but the crux of this definition is the ability to store information and utilize applications on a “cloud”. A cloud (sometimes referred to as “the cloud”), refers to the access and storage of data over the internet.
Before the availability of the cloud, most of us would have to download applications such as Microsoft Word on our computer. Information, such as folders and files containing pictures, would have to be stored in our computers via physical systems such as hard disk drives and USB drives (aka thumb drives).
Without cloud computing, there are significant drawbacks these practices.
Having to store information and applications into a physical system, such as a thumb drive or a hard-disk, means that only the computer with access to the physical system would be able to access the information and applications. Transferring information between systems is a time-consuming process, as you would have to utilize a USB drive to transfer information from one computer to another.
Furthermore, there are limitations to the amount of information that USB drives, hard-drives and other physical systems can store. If you wanted to transfer an extremely large file from one computer to another, you may not be able to do so.
Information and applications that are stored physically are also vulnerable to modifications. If you were to accidentally delete crucial information, such as an important document, it would be difficult to revert such changes. Information could also be altered irreversibly by computer viruses, malicious software, or other harmful applications. Without cloud computing, the only way to secure your information despite such incidences would be to have a “back-up”.
A “back-up” is a hard-drive that stores a copy of the information in your computer, such that if the information inside your computer is compromised, you can always load the data stored in your “back-up” into your computer. However, such a process is often time-consuming, and as a “back-up” is occasionally done, the “back-up” may not contain the latest information that you need.
Why do we need cloud computing?
Cloud computing seeks to address these limitations. With cloud computing, information that you store over the internet is managed by a third-party.
Not managing the security of your own data may seem unsettling, but these companies (e.g. Google, Microsoft) often have world-class cybersecurity practices – meaning your data is extremely secure in their hands.
Furthermore, if you were to accidentally delete information used inside these systems, previous logs of your data would likely be stored inside the cloud. This means that it is easy to revert changes that you have accidentally made and restore information that you thought had disappeared into the abyss. If you wanted to utilize the same information or application across multiple devices, it is also possible to do so. Information in the cloud is not limited to a single computer, but is accessible via the internet using the same user credentials (or simply put, a unique username and password).
Here’s an example of a cloud computing service that most of us university students already rely on for our projects: Google Drive. It allows us to access our documents, files and other important information regardless of the computer or smart device that we’re on. As long as you have the right credentials (and a device with internet access), you will be able to modify the documents and information that you have access to inside your drive. Other notable examples of cloud computing are Dropbox and Microsoft OneDrive.
Now you may be wondering: if the perks far outweigh the cons, why haven’t we shifted all our information onto the cloud yet?
Firstly, cloud computing services are not utilized by many companies on the internet. A lot of applications and information would not be able to be stored on a cloud, and would require one to store such applications and information onto his or her own computer. This is because most companies do not have their own cloud computing services, and renting such services can be a little expensive. Furthermore, some applications require resources from a user’s own computer, such as the graphics card inside a user’s own laptop.
Secondly, cloud computing is still a relatively new technological advancement. More research and technological advancements would have to be made ‘in order to enable more applications and information to be stored on the cloud.
All in all, cloud computing in its simplest form allows data to be stored and utilized via the internet. In a technologically-reliant society where data is increasing in importance and vulnerability, the development of cloud computing is crucial in order to address the limitations of the physical storage of information in computers and other devices.