What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a general term that describes the idea of common computing services being offered entirely online. When you access your Gmail email inbox, you are using the cloud. When you store documents in Dropbox, you are making a backup “in the cloud”. In fact, almost everything service you use online could be described as a cloud service.

It’s Been A Long Time Coming

Computer industry veterans roll their eyes when they hear about cloud computing because the idea of using a thin client and having an application running on a powerful, centralized server is far from new. However, it’s taken a long time for the service to become available to the average user because the infrastructure to support it just didn’t exist until recently.

For the cloud to truly take off, we needed fast, ubiquitous internet access, and servers that could cope with thousands (or millions) of users. It’s only been in the last couple of years that widespread landline broadband has been available, let alone mobile access to web services.

Why The Cloud Matters

The cloud offers several benefits for both businesses and general users. Firstly, the cloud allows end-users to take advantage of sophisticated applications without needing to understand how they work or how to set them up. Secondly, the cloud quite literally gives developers access to as much, or as little, computing power as they need.

Amazon’s Elastic Compute 2 service, EC2, is a service that lets developers make apps that run “in the cloud” instead of needing to buy an entire server to run their app on. While their app is sitting around doing nothing, it might run on just one computing unit. If the app suddenly gets a huge number of users or needs a lot of processing power, it can expand to take up as much power as it needs. The developer can access a limited amount of processing time and power for free, and then if they exceed that, they pay only for what they need to use.

For a small business owner, this is an amazing deal. You’ve probably heard of “big data”. Until recently, only huge organizations could take advantage of big data, because they were the only people who had the resources to collect information and process it. Now, thanks to the government’s open data project, the existence of APIs for social networks, and the power of cloud computing, anyone with some computing skills can make visualizations, social graphs, interactive maps, and other charts to help with market research and analytics. If you can ask a question, you can probably use big data to find the answer.

The Future Of The Cloud

Over the next few years, we can expect to see everything head to the cloud. The UK government has already published a manifesto called “Digital By Default”, which describes how all government services should be provided online. We already pay our bills online and store our photos there too. Many people log their exercise routines and diets online, watch IP TV and read digital books.

Currently, each digital experience is provided in its own little world. We have to remember dozens of logins and accept that our Facebook Friends, Twitter Followers, and Fitocracy Fans have no way of talking to each other. The next step for the cloud will most likely be to unify all of those digital experiences, allowing us to maintain one ID for all of our favorite services so that we can reach our friends no matter where they are or what they’re doing. A unified cloud experience will be simple, convenient and ubiquitous.

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