The Cloud for Dummies Like Me

We all know someone who takes photos with their digital camera, uploads those photos to Facebook or a photo-sharing site, and then never deletes the images from the memory card.

I’m looking at you, Aunt Christine.

And for what? For fear of never having access to them again? With the increasing popularity of the cloud, those fears can now go away.

Aside from the previous sentence, you have no doubt heard the term “the cloud” upwards of 27 times just this week. You might have even used it yourself. But do you know what this trendy buzzword really means?

Until recently, I didn’t understand it myself. (Thankfully, I’m in marketing and not relied upon to coordinate with our clients; the rest of our team is well aware of what the cloud is.) I truly thought it was some satellite to which we were beaming up all our files. I even recently bought an external hard drive on Amazon for photo storage. Now I feel that I was cheated, like there should have been a prompt before I hit “place your order” that told me, “You know you don’t need this, right?”

thumb drive
Stuart Miles Freedigitalphotosnet

The cloud is essentially a gigantic version of your hard drive, in a gigantic room with a bazillion other gigantic hard drives. It’s a network of servers that exist in a global server room—massive warehouses around the world owned by companies like Apple and Amazon. Rather than your computer storing and processing information, this network of servers does the work. So don’t think of the cloud as an intangible database in the sky; think of it as a computer in a building—just a different building than the one you’re currently sitting in.

Cloud storage services, such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive, and Dropbox, allow you to store your files on their servers, likely for a monthly fee. This stops you from eating up all the internal storage space on your computers and smartphones. And when you want to access the info, your cloud storage service provider makes it available to you. But the cloud doesn’t just store your files—it also runs/stores software applications that your firm might be using. For example, the Microsoft Office Suite (Outlook, Word, Excel etc.) is now available in a cloud service called Office 365. Same goes for our   environment.

Your monthly payment to the cloud storage service provider basically replaces the cost of purchasing software or an external hard drive. The advantage is that you can access the program or data from anywhere, from any device that’s connected to the Internet, rather than physically sitting at your computer at work and opening a program, or attaching your external hard drive to your computer via a USB cable.

And, for the most part, you don’t have to worry about the data disappearing. How many times have you thought that, because you pulled a USB cord from your computer without telling it you were going to do so, you somehow erased all the info? I still double check all CDs that I’ve taken out of my computer by pressing the button rather than navigating to “Eject.” With the cloud, these issues don’t exist.

The cloud isn’t all fun and games, though; there are some things to be cautious of while using it. For starters, you might not know exactly where it is. In a business setting, it is important to do your due diligence when utilizing the cloud to understand exactly where the computer exists and who is responsible for safeguarding its contents. Each cloud storage service company has its own security measures in place, but some are better than others. Again, it is worth doing your own research to ensure certain security procedures align with your firm’s use of the cloud.

Also, if you have a weak Internet connection or, God forbid, no Internet connection at all (dreadful!), you cannot access files you’ve stored in the cloud. Same goes for the server side—if your provider is experiencing technical issues, you won’t have access.

The thought of giving up control of your data can be scary, but the cloud can really improve efficiency at your firm as long as you’re mindful of the information you’re storing on it rather than on your hard drive. Or external hard drive. Or memory card.

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