If you’ve paid any attention at all to tech news in the past few years, you’ve probably heard the term “cloud computing” at least once. It’s a phrase many people are familiar with, even if they don’t know exactly what it means. The technology that makes up cloud computing is something most Internet users take advantage of on a regular basis, although they may not realize it.
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cloud computing is a technology that offers remote access to a shared pool of computing resources such as storage, servers and applications that can be accessed and altered without much interaction with the service provider. In simpler terms, cloud computing enables you to perform actions that would normally be done on your computer – like using software – from any computer over the Internet. Web mail is one example of everyday cloud use: instead of using an email client that downloads your mail to your hard drive, Web mail is accessible from any computer as long as you have an Internet connection.
How it Works
Cloud computing is divided into two parts, the service end and the user end. The service end is the constellation of various Internet servers where data and applications are hosted. These put the “cloud” in cloud computing. Although the cloud may be made up of hundreds or thousands of servers, they’re configured to work together as if they were one unit, pooling their collective computing power. The user end is made up of the businesses and individuals who access the data and applications stored on these servers. Some cloud applications, such as Web-based email and photo-sharing services, provide access through your browser. Others use custom software to access the cloud. In general, an active Internet connection is needed to use Cloud services, and when your connection is down, so is your ability to do Cloud-dependent tasks.
Businesses can use cloud computing to store data and host software that would otherwise use their own servers. The benefits of cloud computing for business include the ability to rapidly allocate more resources from the cloud, if necessary, to prevent downtime. Cloud services are shared with other users and sold on a metered basis, so for many businesses it’s a more affordable solution than purchasing and maintaining their own network infrastructure.
For consumers, the cloud takes many forms. Free email services, like Yahoo and Gmail, are considered part of the cloud. Cloud storage – when you upload your data to the cloud so that you can access it from anywhere – is another common use. Common examples include uploading photos to Facebook, keeping files backed up on DropBox and accessing your CD library via Apple's iCloud. Another application, used by both businesses and consumers, is Software as a Service. SaaS providers offer access to software installed in the cloud, eliminating the need for you to install it on your individual computer. Google Docs, the free word-processing suite from Google, is an example of SaaS – you can create and edit documents from any Web browser without ever having to install anything.
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