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The What, Why, and How of “The Cloud.”

If you don’t know your IP from your URL or your VLAN, this column is for you!
Welcome to In Plain English where you’ll learn some techie stuff from a non-tech person who just so happens to have worked with a bunch of computer geniuses for the last 25 years.

Today’s Topic: The What, Why, and How of “The Cloud.”  

What is the cloud? 

You have probably heard of “the cloud” by now, even if you are a bit ashamed to admit that you aren’t quite sure what “the cloud” is. Chances are that you’ve already used the cloud and not known it at the time. Read on, and we will try to make this concept a little less foggy for you!

The first thing you need to know is that “the cloud” exists in data centers that you access via the Internet. Envision large industrial buildings with much of their square footage dedicated to computer equipment. Sometimes these spaces are referred to as server farms, but instead of rows of corn or wheat, they contain rows of powerful computers with expansive storage capacities.

Categories of Cloud Computing

In last month’s article, I had fun with computing acronyms. They are inescapable in reference to the cloud too! There are three main categories of cloud computing:

  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) – where companies rent out computing equipment to other companies.
  2. Platform as a Service (PAAS) – online spaces where developers create software applications.
  3. Software as a Service (SAAS) – where clients use software over the Internet. The average web surfer is most familiar with the SAAS model which includes Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail, for example.

Imagine the size of “the cloud” that must be used by such giants as Facebook that allow millions of people to interact with the same bit of information simultaneously!

Hopefully there is one other SAAS platform you are using – cloud backup! From my experience here at EZ Micro, I have learned that the most important thing you need to do is back up your data. With web based (cloud) applications such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Apple iCloud, there is no reason for you to ever lose a precious photo of Fido again! These services are easy to use and relatively inexpensive.

Businesses can benefit from the use of the cloud to create easy-to-access off-site backups of their critical data that can save their business in the event of a catastrophe such as a fire or even a hack. The job of data centers is to keep your data physically safe from theft and destruction. In fact, cloud providers make multiple copies of the data you upload and purposely store it in multiple locations to ensure that it won’t get destroyed or become inaccessible in the event of a natural disaster.

How safe is the cloud?

Cloud computing is definitely the future of computing, but how do we know that our data is truly safe when we entrust it to a cloud provider? Just like our traditional farmers have irrigation systems, our data farmers have systems that detect fire and smoke. Data centers use emergency power generators and employ security measures to ensure that equipment and data are protected against intruders and disgruntled employees.

Data stored in the cloud is almost always encrypted, a format that would need to be cracked before an intruder could read the information. But perhaps the most important tool in a cloud provider’s safety arsenal is YOU! Your use of complicated user names and passwords is the second most important thing you can do to protect your data (right behind backups). If a cloud provider offers two-factor authentication, you should also use that.

With this method, you must input a unique one-time code that is sent to your phone after entering your user name and password. It’s safe to say that, with the advanced security measures used by cloud providers, it is much more likely that your data will be compromised by actions you do, or don’t, take!

So just how much can the cloud hold?

Have you ever wondered if we will run out of space in the cloud to hold all our data? Recent estimates by show total worldwide data center storage reaching nearly 2,500 Exabytes (EB) by the year 2021. An Exabyte is equivalent to 1 billion Gigabytes (GB). There’s not much to compare to an Exabyte.  It has been said that 5 Exabytes would be equal to all the words ever spoken by mankind!

The theoretical idea of “unlimited storage” doesn’t exist in the physical world. There is a limited capacity of the computers, hard drives, fiber optic cables, and bandwidth that store and move data every day.  But technology is ever-advancing. We can continue to build more data centers and add more servers to store all our selfies and memes. Scientists at MIT, Stanford, and Harvard University are exploring the possibilities of quantum and DNA computing. Mind blown!  In the meantime, I think we can all sit back and enjoy silly kitten videos on You Tube!

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences of the good you have found with technology.
Please email me at with your thoughts.

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