So Exactly What is The Cloud, Anyway?

Ian Billen Explains The Digital Cloud

So you’ve heard it over and over… the cloud, cloud storage, upload to the cloud, cloud services, stored in the cloud, cloud computing, a cloud based app etc. In reality, here in 2019, many people still wonder or don’t truly understand what exactly this CLOUD THING is and how it works. Cloud services and/or using the cloud means, by definition: Storing and/or accessing files or running/accessing programs via the Internet versus storing or accessing these files or running the programs at your local computer, network or device. This means the files or the programs themselves are stored on servers on The Internet. You see, the files or programs are not solely stored on your computer, tablet, mobile phone (or whatever Internet-based device your using). Perhaps a copy of those files are stored locally, which means storing them at your device or within the building where your located but ultimately the main copy is stored somewhere over/on the Internet. Anytime you store to the cloud, or access the cloud you’re simply accessing what you need or desire using servers on the Internet (not locally). Using the cloud always entails using the Internet.

As was said, utilizing the cloud or accessing the cloud simply means you’re accessing the files or using programs that are stored and ran online..not at your local machine/device. You’re probably wondering where on the Internet are all these files or programs stored or ran? Very good question. These files and/or programs are actually stored at large data centers and/or on servers all over the country (and at times throughout the world).

A server uses or communicates with RAID arrays (RAID = multiple hard discs working together for storage / access and fault tolerance) to house your files and folders. Servers are high end machines with souped up hardware that perform a service, run online applications or store information for client devices. Servers – provide the service, clients request the service. The client is your mobile phone, tablet, or computer. The server retrieves your files or information at a data center that houses many RAID arrays. Running a program on a server verses having that program installed on your computer or mobile device is called using a Cloud or Cloud Application Service. This requires logging into an online service (at least once) to run a program. The program is actually running on the server. Only the necessary program files to log-in and get the program active is stored locally (at your machine). This is beneficial to the client because the brunt of hardware resources being used are performed by a server on the Internet, not the local device. As well .. all files or programs developed within the cloud application automatically get stored online for you (no local spaces used).

In breaking this down a bit more, consider someone saying they stored something on the cloud. A more specific way of saying this might be that they stored their personal files by sending them to a data-center or to a server by means of the Internet. If a person says they “get it all from the cloud” or “Use the cloud” be it a program, application, or file,  a more precise way to think of this would be to imagine the concept of this person logging-in or automatically accessing these files/programs by pulling them down from a data center or running the program at the server.

One of the benefits of using the cloud/cloud service is that these huge data centers have back-ups of your files should the circumstance occur in one of these servers or hard discs failing (RAID). They have multiple backups and recovery protocols in place for these type of situations.  Supposedly, this removes that responsibility from the user. If the user has their files stored on the cloud (photos, videos, documents etc.) the premise is that no local copy is not truly required (however recommends at least one back-up locally/on hand). When running a program on the cloud (stored and ran online) it often takes much of the hardware burden and required processing off of your local device. This is because the program/app is for the most part not only stored but is also ran at a server somewhere on the Internet, not on your local machine (or device). In addition, using a cloud to store your files and programs instead of on your computer or at your device requires little to no storage space locally for these purposes.

So if The Internet has been so popular over the last 20 years or more why have cloud services only gained attention over the past four or five years?

1. Internet backbones (the main physical trunk lines and industrial components Internet Service Providers use to send and receive data) have significantly increased their data throughput lately. There is much more bandwidth available to consistently be sending/receiving today than say.. even 10 or 12 years ago.

2. There has been a large increase in the amount of data centers. Within the past six to eight years many more data centers have been built. Now there is much more room (space) to accommodate all the files/programs.

3. Companies and software developers started incorporating online services, online storage facilitation into their operating systems /programs much more starting six or seven years ago. With the realization of higher bandwidth backbones and more data centers being constructed the developers knew things were heading the way of the “cloud”.

4. With the significance of online commerce there has been an enormous boom in small to mid size companies that require some type of client/server operation. It can be much less painless, and far more economical to use a cloud service / cloud-forward company who specializes in providing cloud services to facilitate a companies necessary network services (versus the business or individual hiring an IT staff and needing a building full of hardware / software to set up and maintain).

How does one access the cloud? Another good question. In two different ways. The device, computer, or program automatically logs-in to the cloud at a start-up. The second way is manually logging in. Users get access credentials to cloud accounts by creating log-in credentials when setting up a device or when installing a cloud-based program.

What to take away from this article and fully comprehend:

Server – High end machines that run programs and facilitate a service that is requested (for clients).

Clients – Programs (or devices that ‘request‘ something).

RAID – Redundant Array of Independent Discs. Multiple hard discs used for storage and back-up.

Data Centers – Special Buildings that securely store data via multiple RAID arrays and that also can have servers that run cloud apps for clients.

Using The Cloud – Using the Internet to run a program that is primarily facilitated on an Internet Server (cloud app) and / or storing your files and folders (in RAID arrays) on the Internet (which is also facilitated and overseen by an Internet Server).

Web Apps – Web Browser oriented apps. These apps update themselves so to speak (the cloud service performs this action). These apps are not downloaded and stored locally on the device itself but require logging in to the app via a web browser.

Cloud Apps – Apps that are built off of the premise of a web app but do not always require a web browser to login. Cloud apps offer more
functionality, cloud storage, security options, and customization  than a basic web app. Cloud apps can also be used offline where as web apps require a web browser with a working Internet Connection.

Ian Billen –