The phrase “cloud computing” has become a popular buzzword of late, but what does it mean, and how can it benefit individuals or businesses? Cloud computing, to put it in very basic terms, is best described as a person interacting with an off-site application. A good example of this is one of the many online word processors or graphic editors. Go to Google Docs or Adobe’s online version of Photoshop. Create and edit a document. Unlike using a local copy of Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, the power behind those web apps comes not from your computer, but from servers located somewhere else. You interface with the program through a web browser or other dedicated application, but the power behind the application is located offsite.
For businesses and users, there are numerous advantages to this.
First is the scalability of cloud computing. Whereas a growing business with all its processing power kept locally would need to buy more servers each time it wanted to expand, a business using cloud computing for its business applications only needs to purchase a higher level of service. This added service powers more “seats” or licenses, and so added employees can take advantage.
Another big advantage of cloud computing is its cost effectiveness. Because extra resources are only purchased as they are used, cloud computing can be quite a bit easier on the pocketbook than using a dedicated, local server. Whereas a server needs to be purchased all at once, added cloud resources need only be purchased as they are consumed, and only for the amount of processing time used.
But not only is cloud computing cost effective, it’s also a good way for a business or individual to reduce his or her environmental impact. In other words, it’s a good way to “go green” for your I.T. department. Just as car pooling to work is cheaper, more efficient and causes less of an environmental impact, so too does sharing computing power among users or even companies. In this way, multiple entities can use the same source of processing power, and thereby lower their impact.
Cloud computing is also advantageous because it’s generally located wherever you have access to a network. Although some cloud computing setups use a local network, many use the Internet. Because of this, access to the cloud can happen wherever you have access to the Internet. Whether that’s at home, on the road, with a laptop or smart phone, no longer to you have to be in the office or tethered to a desk to have access to all your applications.
Finally, keeping up-to-date is much less of a hassle with cloud computing. An I.T. department using cloud computing doesn’t generally have to concern itself with maintaining hardware or performing software upgrades. All that is handled remotely, which means that more complex programs and setups can be used than could otherwise be installed by someone less technologically savvy.
There are certainly some types of applications that will benefit from being performed locally, so most individuals and businesses may find that a combination of hosted applications and on-site programs are a good fit. But there’s no doubt that cloud computing, with its flexibility, scalability and cost-effectiveness, is more than just a buzzword. It’s the way computing will be done in the future.