January 03, 2011, 10:20 AM — Does computing terminology constantly befuddle you? You're not alone. Nobody ever takes the time to explain new tech terms fully, and it seems we're supposed to figure it all out on our own.
As this year comes to an end, I've taken time-out to explain a couple of tech terms that have been really popular this year in business computing. I'm starting here with cloud computing.
The intention is to keep things simple, and I've deliberately avoided technical language. Of course, this means I can't be exact or precise, and more knowledgeable readers will have to forgive me if it seems I cut a few corners.
Cloud computing is simply this: the same stuff you do with your computer, such as office tasks or storing files, except done online.
The term 'cloud computing' comes from the visual image of a cloud of data that floats out on the Internet, and which can be accessed from anywhere there's an Internet connection, on any computing device.
Perhaps the flagship cloud product is Google Docs, which offers a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations package, all of which are accessed through your web browser. You don't have to save files to your hard disk--all data is saved automatically in Google's data cloud.
Many cloud services are accessed through a browser, as clumsy as that might seem. This is why companies like Google, Microsoft and Mozilla are paying a lot of attention to the speed of their browsers. Fast browsers are needed to run cloud applications well, especially as they get ever more sophisticated.
In addition to applications, the cloud also offers storage. This is where files are stored online, instead of (or in addition) to being stored on your hard disk. For example, DropBox adds a folder to your computer's hard disk and automatically uploads any files saved there to the DropBox cloud.
Why we need the cloud
But why bother with the cloud if our desktop and laptop computers already offer this kind of thing?
Cloud computing is built for the world of tomorrow, where we each use many different kinds of computing devices: desktop, laptop, cellphone, or tablet. The intention is to make the functionality and data we need always accessible no matter where we are in the world, and no matter what we're using to access the Internet.
In addition, cloud computing is cheaper for businesses. If an online storage service is used, there's no need to buy server hardware, for example, or to pay for staff to maintain hardware.