Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Is Your Head in the Cloud?

If you use the internet, have a smart phone, or play online video games from your computer or a gaming counsel, the answer is a resounding have your head in the cloud! This is no reflection whatsoever on your thinking, but is all about the technology you use. All of those tools, and much more, come to us via cloud technology.

Even if you aren't familiar with cloud technology, you've probably heard it being touted in ads or in the media. It's talked about like it's "the best new thing." It just may be. But why is it called "the cloud," and what is cloud technology, or more specifically cloud storage and computing? To folks who aren't techies, it all sounds vague and mysterious.

The reason it' s called the cloud has several explanations. One of the more common is that years back, when the internet was in it's earlier years, the internet was represented in diagrams as a cloud. Information went in one side and came out the other. What happened in between had to do with a very large complex network of servers accessing and distributing information that was too large and complicated to represent in any sort of detail, so it was simply shown as a cloud. To end users, how it all functioned wasn't completely clear or even important. It was large and ever changing - much like a cloud.

Unless you're a real techie, that's how most of us still view the internet. We don't need to understand all the intricacies. We just want it to work. And work it does. There are now billions of internet users around the world accessing this massive cloud of information, and those numbers continue to explode. As the internet has become more and more accessible, the technology behind it has spawned new ways of thinking about data storage and computing.

In the past, data storage has been restricted to what a person was able to store on their computer or external storage devices. That ranged from an external hard drive or thumb drive for personal computers to rooms filled with banks of servers for large businesses. All that hardware can be expensive and take up a lot of space. In time, all that hardware will wear out or become obsolete, meaning yet more cost.

With developments in the ease, dependability and speed of electronic data transfer, the idea of cloud storage was born. It is now possible for anyone from an individual personal computer user to a large company to transfer data and have it stored and secured by a cloud of remote servers. For a reasonable fee, unlimited amounts of data can be securely stored and accessed from anywhere in the world. With the proper security installed, a person on vacation on another continent can access or store anything they would normally store on the hard drive of their computer from any computer having internet access. A business storing data in the cloud is now able to have access to that data anywhere - from New Mexico to New Zealand and anywhere in between. Cloud technology has brought global information to a new level.

The real excitement, however, is in cloud computing. Software applications for businesses and academia is costly, and in some cases consume huge amounts of computing power. When a business purchases software that is installed on multiple computers, licensing agreements must be purchased to cover all the users. When more users are added, more licensing agreements must be purchased. The solution? Cloud computing.

More and more applications are now available via cloud access. Those applications may be as small as having access to play games or a GPS app on your smart phone to some very heavy duty scientific computing in a research lab. The software being accessed is constantly being updated and is available for a one-time fee or on a pay-for-use basis. Furthermore, the computing is done remotely on countless banks of servers out in the cloud. By routing the computing to various servers during peak load periods in one part of the world to others serving geographies on the other side of the world that are at a much lower use at that time, computing speeds may be greatly improved.

As cloud technology develops, more and more services will become available. Some examples of services that are already available are SaaS - Software as a Service, PaaS - Platform as a Service and HaaS - Hardware as a Service.

Where it will all end, no one knows. But wherever it leads, you can be sure that the future is in the cloud.

Enventis specializes in providing integrated voice, data and network communication solutions, including cloud technology, to businesses and service providers across the upper Midwest.

By Julie Foster

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