Cloud Computing Services & Infrastructure“What’s the cloud?” “Where is the cloud?” “Are we in the cloud now?!” These are all questions you’ve probably heard or even asked yourself. The term “cloud computing” is everywhere.

In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. It goes back to the days of flowcharts and presentations that would represent the server-farm infrastructure of the Internet as nothing but a puffy, white cumulonimbus cloud, accepting connections and doling out information as it floats.

What cloud computing is not about is your hard drive. When you store data on–or run programs from the hard drive, that’s called local storage and computing. Everything you need is physically close to you, which means accessing your data is fast and easy (for that one computer, or others on the local network). Working off your hard drive is how the computer industry functioned for decades and some argue it’s still superior to cloud computing, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

The cloud is also not about having a dedicated hardware server in residence. Storing data on a home or office network does not count as utilizing the cloud.

For it to be considered “cloud computing,” you need to access your data or your programs over the Internet, or at the very least, have that data synchronized with other information over the Net. In a big business, you may know all there is to know about what’s on the other side of the connection; as an individual user, you may never have any idea what kind of massive data-processing is happening on the other end. The end result is the same: with an online connection, cloud computing can be done anywhere, anytime.

Common Cloud Examples

You can easily have a local piece of software (for instance, Microsoft Office 365, one of the versions of Office 2013) that utilizes a form of cloud computing for storage (Microsoft Skydrive in the case of Office). That said, Microsoft also offers a set of Web apps that are close versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote that you can access via your Web browser without installing anything.

Some other major examples of cloud computing you’re probably using:

Apple iCloud: Apple’s cloud service is primarily used for online storage and synchronization of your mail, contacts, calendar, and more. All the data you need is available to you on your iOS, Mac OS, or Windows device. iCloud also stores media files.

Amazon Cloud Drive: Storage at the big retailer is mainly for music, preferably MP3s that you purchase from Amazon.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

  • Achieve economies of scale – increase volume output or productivity with fewer people. Your cost per unit, project or product plummets.
  • Reduce spending on technology infrastructure. Maintain easy access to your information with minimal upfront spending. Pay as you go (weekly, quarterly or yearly), based on demand.
  • Globalize your workforce on the cheap. People worldwide can access the cloud, provided they have an Internet connection.
  • Streamline processes. Get more work done in less time with less people.
  • Reduce capital costs. There’s no need to spend big money on hardware, software or licensing fees.
  • Improve accessibility. You have access anytime, anywhere, making your life so much easier!
  • Monitor projects more effectively. Stay within budget and ahead of completion cycle times.
  • Less personnel training is needed. It takes fewer people to do more work on a cloud, with a minimal learning curve on hardware and software issues.
  • Minimize licensing new software. Stretch and grow without the need to buy expensive software licenses or programs.
  • Improve flexibility. You can change direction without serious “people” or “financial” issues at stake.