What Is the Cloud?

Home & Family, Technology
on November 6, 2011

The “cloud” has been discussed extensively, as companies are shifting their technological offerings to a consumer base that has an increased desire for online storage. Overall, the cloud is really another term for the Internet, or the idea of storing information at an online location rather than on a stand-alone computer. Symbolically, the cloud refers to the perception that information and data are stored in a digital place that is “out there” rather than at a defined local server or unit.

Past and present. From a technical standpoint, the cloud has existed for as long as online services have been available. Consumers have utilized email for many years, and email messages typically are stored at a location other than users' personal computers. Now, the idea of the cloud refers more to the storage of files, music and video on an online site. Users already are utilizing the cloud as a way to view paperless statements and manage finances — everyday banking and retirement accounts, for example. In addition, there has been an increased shift to Internet-based software as opposed to computer packages that are installed on one computer. As noted by the Pew Research Center, experts believe that the cloud computer may become the standard in the next few years.

Bandwidth and behavior. What will dictate future cloud activity will be the demands of consumers. Storing email and a few files online is not difficult, but storing large video and music libraries may require huge quantities of storage space and bandwidth. Given the expectations of computer users, it may be a challenge to maintain high-speed access to immense quantities of information. Consumers have developed high expectations when it comes to retrieval, and users may become impatient if they cannot easily retrieve information from the cloud.

Security and sense of safety. Moving information from a standalone computer to a website may require some individuals to adjust their thinking about data storage. When people moved from paper to computer files, there was a step of trust that had to be taken. The move to the cloud may require a similar paradigm shift. In addition, ongoing issues of security, data backup and revision will change the cloud and how it is managed over time.