What Is The Cloud (We Won't Tell The Kids You Asked)
What Is The Cloud (We Won’t Tell The Kids You Asked)
31 March 2022
Hand plugging into a cloud

Don’t Tell My Kids I Asked, ‘What The Heck Is The Cloud?’

If you feel a little embarrassed to ask, “What is the cloud,” don’t. According to search trends, more than 12,500 users every month in the U.S. ask Google to explain the cloud. If that’s what brought you here, get comfy while we explain how cloud computing works, how you access the cloud, what the cloud does, and how the cloud works.

The Cloud Definition (What Is the Cloud?)

In the world of computing, a cloud refers to things like software and services that you access using an internet-connected browser, such as Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Cloud-based means the information lives on servers — sometimes more than one — rather than on your computer or an external hard drive. Most users do not actually know where the servers are (nor do they need to know). 

Does information literally live in clouds?

No. The cloud is so-called because of its ethereal nature. You can’t see the information, you can’t see the servers, and you access it through a connection that you can’t see beyond your computer screen.

For example, any time you check your email, stream movies or shows through Sling, Hulu, or Netflix, or use Google Maps and Google Drive, you access information in the cloud. Even software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, which we used to have to download and install on our computers, is available on the cloud.

So, why is the cloud so important? The main advantage of keeping your information on the cloud is that you can access it from anywhere, provided you have an internet connection. Theoretically, using the cloud or cloud-based applications, means you can work on your computer at home and pick up where you left off when you get home.

We say “theoretically,” because some employers and organizations limit what you can and cannot access in the cloud and through an internet connection. For example, healthcare workers cannot log into their work accounts from home and access patient files. Also, some remote-access work isn’t cloud-based at all; it’s actually hosted on on-site servers that workers access by logging in. But that’s getting a little into the weeds and beyond the scope of the central theme here, which is: What the heck is the cloud, anyway?

Advantages of cloud-based apps

Memory: One of the biggest advantages of using cloud-based applications is that the cloud frees up your computer’s storage. By using cloud-based apps like your email provider, Microsoft Office, and Facebook (to name a few), you free up space so your computer performs better.  

That freed-up space makes room for valuable programs like OneLaunch (a software program that you download from the cloud and install on your computer).

Updates: Another advantage of a cloud-based app is that when the developers update the application, you don’t have to do anything, and updates rarely limit your ability to use the apps. Updates get installed “in the cloud,” so when you open the app, you’ll see the update automatically; however, some apps require you to sign out and sign in to view updates.

Security: Your data is protected in the cloud. When your apps and data are stored in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about them becoming corrupted or lost. Without getting too technical, cloud services store your information on servers that are located throughout the country (and even all over the world). The cloud servers are redundant, meaning there are several that perform the same operations at the same time, so if one fails, the other is seamlessly backed up.

What is Cloud Storage?

When you save a file on your computer, it takes up space; like sticking things in a closet, there’s only so much room for your stuff before you have to clean out your closet, start filling up another one, rent a storage unit, or move to a bigger house. Your computer is the same; it can only handle so much “stuff” before it starts acting up. It’ll slow down, freeze up, and potentially crash, which is NOT good because it can damage your files. To prevent this from happening, you have the option to save your files (documents, images, etc.) in cloud storage. 

The way cloud storage works is when you save files or folders to the cloud, they go into what’s called cloud storage, which refers to somewhere other than on your device that is maintained by a third party. Amazon Web Services, for example, is one of the largest cloud platforms.

In reality, the cloud is essentially companies like Amazon that have gigantic computers storing files from people around the globe, so they don’t have to keep them on their computers at home. These companies offer you space to store your files (a basic small amount of storage is often free, while a larger amount will typically cost you a subscription fee).

To understand cloud storage, let’s continue looking at Amazon and their cloud-based Amazon Photos, where you can save unlimited photos and 5GB of videos as an Amazon Prime member. Once you transfer your photos and videos from your computer or mobile device to the cloud, you can view them, organize them, share your digital memories with people in private groups, and order prints from your desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device without them taking up your device’s storage. 

Is the Cloud the Same as the Internet?  

Ask this question, and you’ll get various answers, with some saying the cloud is a metaphor for the internet, while others say they are the same. Here’s an easy way to remember what the cloud is: it’s all the things you can access from anywhere over the internet. When you store something in the cloud, that means it is on a computer (which you may hear referred to as internet servers) other than yours. How do you access the cloud? Through an internet connection. 

So … Is the Cloud Safe? 

Storing your files on a computer that you can’t see can make you hesitant to use the cloud. There are several reasons why you should think twice because cloud storage is more secure than your computer at home. Here’s why:

  • Companies that store your information (or data) back up the data (make identical copies of all the files) multiple times and keep them in several protected locations. So, if one site is ever compromised due to hackers, or climate catastrophe (fire or earthquake), your data is still safe in another location. 
  • Cloud storage facilities are monitored 24/7 by cybersecurity experts.
  • Cloud storage providers use firewalls, much like a real wall that protects your files from hackers.
  • Cloud providers implement consistent security updates to protect their systems from viruses and malware.

Wasn’t that easy? Now that you know what the cloud is and how it can help you, you’re ready to share your knowledge next time someone asks you: What’s the cloud?

Main image source:  ID 19425571

 © Jakub Jirsak | Dreamstime.com