On Computing

Demystifying the “Cloud”

Joel Jasper

Article by Joel Jasper Newsletter Editorial Board


Lots of folks ask about “The Cloud.” This is a short attempt to demystify a relatively new dimension of computing that’s here to stay.

Wikipedia says “[t]he name comes from the use of clouds as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams.” (Huh?) You don’t need a “system diagram” to know that what the “cloud” means is, with internet access from a very basic computer, or even terminal, you can do anything the baddest computer you know of can, anywhere, and share it with others. Consider this an analogy to the internet used as a telephone and computer network.

An understanding of service models helps to explain this. From basic to the most complex, these are IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and SaaS (Software as a Service), all of which interact with Cloud Clients.

A Cloud Client can be as simple as a web browser or as complex as a mainframe. The important concept is that it is the AClient@ who accesses the desired service model.

IaaS allows a Client, which can be anything from an individual to all users in an organization, to access a system on a pay as you go basis. PaaS allows a Client to access a full computing platform without a costly investment in hardware and software. SaaS allows a Client to access application software from a cloud provider, eliminating the need for system administration over all users in the Client organization. Thus, “Cloud” means access to computing capability and storage which are not on the “Client.”

All this is easier to understand in practice. You very likely use cloud based services already, for example, email (Gmail, Google, you name it). Google not only provides email, but it offers free online storage. Google Drive (drive.google.com) offers 5GB of free storage, which works in conjunction with Google Docs -- more on that in a bit.

There are many variations on this theme. Google Drive allocates a space on Google’s servers personal to you, which you can share with others or access from your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Google Docs, a free competitor with Microsoft Office, will let you create and edit documents or any other program generated output online. On your computer, for example, you can install Google Drive (PC or Mac version), which creates a folder that syncs with Google Drive in the cloud, allowing you and all authorized users to access the most current version of whatever you’re working on.

An additional example is DropBox (dropbox.com). DropBox eliminates the need for an organization sharing documents by repetitive emails with redundant attachments. This makes it much easier for multiple people to access the most recent versions of large documents.

FileBoard (fileboard.com) integrates DropBox and Gmail accounts, so you can write emails in Gmail and attach documents stored in a DropBox folder.

Box (box.com) lets you share files, track versions, and comment on documents.

Sugar Sync (sugarsync.com) is compatible with numerous mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, Kindle) and lets you store, share, sync, and back up folders from the Cloud to your PC or device.

Find this (somewhat) demystifying? Cloud usage will become increasingly prevalent, especially with the proliferation of smart phones and tablets.

Questions or comments? Drop me an email: jwh3@mindspring.com