What is the cloud?
Nowadays computer stores, businesses, and technicians are abuzz about “The Cloud,” but no one takes the time to explain just what that means.
In a nutshell, it means your data is securely kept somewhere outside of your home or business using the internet.
Let’s break that down a bit. Your data would be stuff like photos, music, movies, and school work. Your computer has something in it called a hard drive that works (and looks) like a phonograph record player. And like a record, your hard drive keeps a copy (record) of your files. If something happens to your computer, your hard drive can often be removed and all of your stuff recovered and saved somewhere else, like another hard drive.
What’s important to remember is that a hard drive is a physical thing. It’s using electricity and clicking and clacking inside of your computer. You can hold it. If something happens to that one hard drive, you risk losing all of your data. Yikes!
How does the cloud work?
“The Cloud” is a fancy way of saying that your data is copied somewhere else using the Internet. Your computer calls up another nearby computer, they chat, and work together to make a copy of your stuff. Different companies have trademarked services that do this. Apple uses iCloud, Microsoft uses OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), Google has Google Drive. There’s Drop Box, Carbonite, and countless others, even some based in Baltimore. But they all have that cloud part in common and pretty much work the same way.
To use any cloud service, your computer needs to have a pretty good connection to the internet, especially if you’ve got oodles of photos and other heavy files to backup. The bigger they are, the longer they’ll take to copy over the internet. Most services, like iCloud, copy your files over automagically, saving you the hassle of remembering to do it each day.
Why use the cloud?
Cloud backup comes with some risks, but can also be a life saver. Imagine that you just dropped your iPhone down a mine shaft, lost forever. If you took the time to setup iCloud, your photos, contacts, and documents might be saved somewhere safe. Grab a new iPhone, setup iCloud again, and bingo! There are all of your pictures.
On the other hand, saving your data to someone else’s computer comes with a risk. Your data is literally outside of your computer, somewhat beyond your control. Privacy is a regular worry, exposure to hacking and theft, as well as government seizure. Typically, your data gets saved to numerous computers, mixed with countless other users. That’s quite the brew and, sometimes, a prime target for theft or snooping. When researching cloud options, make sure to read the fine print and never go with a less than reputable service. Pay the extra mile for security and reliability, you’ll thank me for it.
Do I need the cloud?
Yes, probably. Saving small amounts of personal data, like pictures or school work, is generally safe and can prevent a catastrophe. Businesses with good cloud backup need never worry that their essential stuff can get swept away in a flood or hurricane. Likewise for personal data, like pictures and notes. I’ve seen countless folks tear up when they realize that their personal data isn’t lost after their computer failed and this is often due to smartly setup cloud backups.
On the other hand, companies or individuals with huge data requirements might find the cloud cumbersome, slow, or expensive. Small, single person cloud services (like iCloud, One Drive, and Google Drive) offer cheap or even free cloud services, so long as your data is under a few gigabytes. If you know for fact that your businesses needs a lot more than this – like a lot more – then the cloud still isn’t suitable for your needs. The internet is just too slow and recovering your data quickly would be impossible. In this case, good ‘ol local backups to a hard drive you keep in a safe deposit box is still the smart, and most cost effective solution.