Cloud computing seems inescapable. Phones and devices have cloud servers for files, any user can get free cloud backups for their own computers, and even federal and state governments are investing in cloud computing for their own data. But just what is it, and is it safe?
What Is It?
First, we had computers that had hard drives with information and programs on them, and then we used discs to move that information from computer to the next. These discs were small, so we took to thumb drives, but this was problematic if you forgot your thumb drive at home or work or school. Those of us who had web mail account like Yahoo or Hotmail recognized we could just email ourselves the data, and open it from wherever.
This was the early stage of Cloud Computing.
Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store and manage data, rather than a local server, or a personal computer. Given that few of us stick to just one computer these days –between home, work, school, laptops, tablets, and other devices – having ready access to that information on any device is important. This is where cloud computing comes in.
Where is it stored?
Cloud computing is named as such because information or even programs are used or run from a number of application or storage servers kept and backed up off site, and accessed through multiple computers where the user logs into an interface for access. A simple example of this is web-based email which is accessible through a web browser and website, but available through any computer.
Individuals and companies often resort to third-party cloud storage, such as iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and others. Companies may wish to back up not only files, but whole computers, databases, or programs for use.
When are people going to use this tech?
This sort of technology has been used since the ‘90s when people backed up files on web hosts or used web-based email clients. With the ever increasing use of mobile computing, cloud hosting has become more prevalent and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Why is this needed?
The more mobile people become with their computing, the more important it will be to have access to files, data, and programs remotely. While devices and computers have ever-increasingly large hard drives and can hold more info, hauling around secondary drives and copying information over is redundant and unnecessary.
For companies and industries, a base location for all information is valuable in the interests of saving money and time. Instead of a slowly depreciating server under a desk or stuck in the back room, all information is available and reliably backed up offsite. This also allows for people in multiple locations, branches, or buildings, to have access to and immediately update information as needed.
What are the potential pitfalls and drawbacks?
Cloud computing has some very real drawbacks and concerns, and some of them do not have good solutions at this time:
- Access: To access the cloud (whatever form of cloud you are accessing at the moment), the user needs internet access. Without wifi or otherwise, access to files and software severely limits what can be done. This is becoming less and less a problem as time goes on, but still could come up as an issue.
- Security: Every day the news broadcasts another company or institution getting hacked. And as security gets more sophisticated, hackers always seem one step ahead. Information could be accessed and stolen during a number of points in the cloud computing process, whether it be a hacker discovering a means of getting in, or a user with a weak password.
- Privacy: Housing your data somewhere on the web inevitably means someone else may have access to it. Along with the aforementioned hackers, NSA access to various servers and databases has been argued and discussed extensively throughout the last year. While a company may not have anything to hide, they may not want that data accessible in general.
- Third Party Control: Ultimately, in handing over data and programs to a third party, a company or institution is handing the keys over to someone else. Not everyone likes this or feels comfortable with it, and would prefer to have complete control over their information.
Despite the potential hazards of cloud computing, large companies and even government and official institutions more and more are turning in that direction due to reduced costs and ease of use. The debate and concern over the security of private information will only increase as hackers are more sophisticated and computing becomes more ubiquitous. But cloud computing is not going away any time soon.
For more information on cloud computing and internet security in general, follow the Appletree Media blog.
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