Technophobe: What's up in the Cloud?

Megan Youngren/Sun Star Columnist
November 6, 2012

When you’re left with just the things on your device, you immediately know what of your data is in the Cloud – but how often does that situation occur? And is the cloud so simply defined as the applications you use requiring Internet access? Problems accessing your data can be from internet outages like we’ve experienced on campus, or on the other side in cases like data center outages. Websites hosted in New York went down due to Hurricane Sandy, but usually it’s a more temporary outage. We’re relying on the cloud to be safe in terms of hacker resistant security, too, and while that’s pretty much guaranteed privacy is not.

Advertising the cloud without explaining it leaves consumers to wonder what is being sold. The Onion investigates.

If you’ll be hosting all your data on a server somewhere, it needs to be in a safe location. Usually it is, but not everyone has the setup that Google or Amazon has with data backed up in several locations with each location built for maximum reliability. It’s an interesting fact that Amazon is not only a e-commerce site but also a provider of cloud services that can act as the backend that stores your images on Tumblr or your files on Dropbox, amongst other functions.

Explaining what else the Cloud is requires some concrete examples, although it’s essentially just server processor power and hard drive space providing functionality that you won’t have to do locally anymore. The Cloud is Gmail for email, Google Docs for word processing, Google Drive and Dropbox for backup. The Cloud is Blackboard, OWL and WebAssign – you go to their site, you can’t work offline.

The cloud is as interactive as the application it’s being used for or as dumb as just hard drive space off-site. The cloud is not free and if it is there is some reason for that, like Google’s ads. Someone has to pay for the server costs, directly or indirectly.

The cloud is certainly not as accessible as a local hard drive – if you need much from it. Even here on campus there is little bandwidth to go around sometimes, but we have more bandwidth per person than a home internet connection would even then. Using the cloud without anything stored or running locally isn’t feasible yet.

Streaming some things is doable though; it’s convenient and instantly gratifying, saving hard drive space and waiting time to download. Listening to a song on Spotify or Google Music, watching a movie on Netflix, looking through pictures on Facebook or grabbing a backed up document you need but don’t have with you – these are all essentially cloud services and they are possible without an extremely fast connection.

If you’d like to, you can pull down all of your things – let’s say you’ve lost your laptop. It’ll take forever to download, but it’s better than nothing at all. Unless you’re using software like Dropbox, a Chromebook, iPad+iCloud or some other device with comprehensive, frequent background backup, the idea of even spending the time to back up all your things is daunting. This technological shift to automatic backup is great for people who don’t back up their things on separate local storage. Remote storage is just part of the puzzle – interconnectedness is the end goal.

Our devices already can send a website to be opened automatically on the other, as in Chrome to Phone. They save our pictures to a server in the background – if you use an Android and Google+ your phones’ photos are synced onto the Google+ site where you can choose to publish them. If you have a iPhone, iCloud does a similar thing by mirroring your phones’ photos onto your computer.

If you use iCloud notes, Google Docs, or just save your Word files into a Dropbox folder it makes sure that if you lose a flash drive precious documents aren’t lost too. Losing your devices isn’t such a bad thing anymore. That’s the cloud, it’s already useful, you probably already use it.

If you’re worried about safety, using a reputable cloud provider ensures that they have redundant backups of your data, and that it’s well-protected from hackers by constant monitoring and the best safeguards available. As long as you have a good password, you’re very safe, if not from the government. Something to think about is that businesses wouldn’t use cloud services if they weren’t as secure as what they’d have locally.

It’s good to know what the cloud is really to make sense of the generalized marketing that you might see about it. These advertisements tend to not make any sense as no one can succinctly put it into words. Or they don’t even know, and the marketing is just to associate a struggling brand with a buzzword.

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