Cloud Computing


Destination Cloud: Are We There Yet?

There is growing interest in the cloud. It sounds absolutely perfect for both consumers and businesses. Some are jumping in — so why isn’t everyone? There are many pros and cons. Many use it successfully to build and manage their growing business, but many others fall victim to problems.

What, exactly, is the cloud? That’s the first problem. “The cloud” is a general term that means many different things. The cloud actually has been around for years.

Back up your computer to Carbonite or Mozy? You use the cloud. Store e-books on Amazon? You use the cloud. There are countless other examples. The cloud is growing — and we are using it, although we may not even realize it.

Today, people use the cloud as their hard drive. Instead of storing data to the hard drive of a device, they store it to their cloud account. You can set up a cloud account with a variety of different providers including Apple, Google, Amazon and many others.

Security and Reliability

The cloud is online. That means you need to have a live Internet connection to store and retrieve your info. No connection, no access to data — that’s one problem.

On the other hand, you can choose a cloud service that lets you save your information to your device, but then regularly backs it up whenever you’re online.

That’s what services like Apple’s iCloud do. You can start something on your laptop, for example, and then later resume working on it on your tablet or smartphone.

This sounds great, but there is another problem: security. When you store your information on someone else’s server, how secure is it? All cloud services are not created equal. Some are very secure, while others are pretty much wide open.

Even the very secure sites have problems. You may remember stories about problems that large, respected companies have had with their cloud business over the last couple of years. There are other cloud services experiencing worse issues, seemingly on a regular basis.

So, outages and security are two big areas of concern, whether the cloud user is an individual consumer, a small business with a dozen users, or a large business with tens of thousands of users.

Although the cloud has been around for at least a couple of decades, the way we are using it today — as a virtual hard drive for individuals or companies — is brand new.

Any time we are talking about anything brand new in the tech world, it can be both innovative and wonderful, but it often is like Swiss cheese — full of security and reliability holes.

Early adopters take the arrows. They get the benefits of new technology, but they must deal with all the problems as well.

That’s where we are today — we are still in the time of early cloud adopters. The companies that are using the cloud typically are the first to jump into everything.

Over time, the next wave jumps in and then the next. As the months, quarters and years pass, we identify weak links and strengthen them. That means for everything — like staying online and staying secure.

I have heard that many companies that use the cloud today actually use several different cloud services and technologies. They know things can go wrong, so they are hedging their bets.

This is exactly what happens with every good, new technology as it goes through the wringer. Over time, it gets better, more secure — and less expensive.

Early Adoption vs. Wait and See

So what kind of customer are you? Whether you are an individual or a company, are you an early adopter willing to take the arrows, or are you more conservative — preferring to wait a while before jumping in?

We all own and use many different devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones. We like to have access to our files no matter which device we’re using — and that’s true even if we are using a computer that is not ours for a one-time purpose.

Most of us, whether individuals or companies, still store our information the good old-fashioned way — on our devices. Then we can sync with our company servers.

Some cloud services are open to the public, and some are owned and operated by individual companies for their use. When you own and operate your own cloud, it sounds perfect and private — but it’s up to you to make sure it’s always on and always secure. That’s a large commitment of manpower and money.

There’s a growing number of cloud services available to store your information — like Apple’s iCloud, the Microsoft Cloud or Amazon Cloud Drive. Or you can buy an inexpensive Chromebook that stores data to Google’s Cloud rather than on the laptop, a clever new idea.

Going forward, the meaning of the term “cloud” likely will expand to encompass more things from more companies, solving more problems.

Ready or not, we have to get up to speed on what different cloud services can do for us.

Every cloud service is not created equal. This new area will be confusing in the early years, but as we become more comfortable with it, it will make more sense.

The good news is that you don’t have to jump in yet. Those who want to already are doing so and experiencing both the wonder and the problems. The cloud will only get better as time passes.

Most still are not using the cloud yet — but mark my words, you will be a cloud customer some day. In fact, you may already be one.

Do you use iCloud to back up your iPhone, iPad or MacBook? Do you use a Kindle or a Google Chromebook?

They, and many others, are examples of the cloud. You may already be in the cloud and not even know it.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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