21 Nov

What cloud computing really means

There are certain names given to things that tell you exactly what that thing is or does without explanation.  The term “cloud computing” has become a buzzword that projects a lot of meaning…or no meaning at all.  You see, the trouble with a buzzword is that it can be misleading and ambiguous – giving the computer layman/novice/techno-idiot a false sense of security.  Wouldn’t you kill for a chance to hear someone give you a straightforward, honest, non-technical answer to the question, “What does cloud computing really mean?”

Cloud Computing for Dummies

Here is the definition from Dummies.com on their “Cloud Computing” page:

“Cloud computing has four essential characteristics: elasticity and the ability to scale up and down, self-service provisioning and automatic deprovisioning, application programming interfaces (APIs), billing and metering of service usage in a pay-as-you-go model. ….This flexibility is what is attracting individuals and businesses to move to the cloud.”

Blah, blah, blah!

I read this definition to my 82 year-old Mother who understands the basics of email and Skype but has trouble transferring photographs from her digital camera to her computer.  I got a blank stare.  Then I asked my son, a computer science college student and employee of Apple, Inc., to explain it in the simplest terms possible so that his Grandmother would get it…he failed.

I Googled the phrase “simple cloud explanation” and found my search was like searching for the Holy Grail.   Why is it so difficult to use plain English to inform and educate people about the computer world without resorting to jargon and hyperbole? Today, I’ve decided, I’m going to imagine that I’ve met an alien from another planet and he inquired about cloud computing.  Here is what I might tell him.

The “Cloud”

The term “cloud” refers, essentially, to a service that is delivered to a customer via the Internet.  More specifically, the cloud is where a service is delivered (i.e., email services like Gmail and Yahoo) to customers who do not own the hardware (“the mechanical, electronic… devices comprising a computer system, as the CPU, disk drives, keyboard, or screen.”) or software (“Programs used to direct the operation of a computer…”) that provides the services to them.  In other words, one rents or leases the services and has them delivered through the Internet to their personal computer or server (“Provides and organizes access to these resources for other computers linked to it.”) remotely.

Cloud + Computing

Cloud computing involves multiple numbers of computers, hardware, software and servers to give customers what they need remotely without the customers actually having to own or run the hardware or software themselves.  Some other examples of computing in the cloud that you are likely to be using everyday are:

  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Netflix

Netflix and YouTube are perfect examples of computing in the cloud; millions of people simultaneous streaming, uploading video files and downloading movies onto their computers, laptops or TVs without having to purchase additional software or hardware.

Cloudy With a Chance of….

The beauty of computing in the cloud is that computers can be added or removed without disturbing the operation of the cloud and the user doesn’t need to know a thing about computer technology in order to take advantage of it.  Large corporations like Amazon and Google have decided to move away from the traditional way they manage their operations and data and have moved up to the cloud.  Cloud computing is at one’s disposal whether you are sitting at your desk at home or carrying your laptop halfway across the world…the cloud is always hanging over your head.  Simple?

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