Get Your Head out of the Clouds

Get Your Head out of the Clouds

My father always told me “Get Your Head out of the Clouds.” Now, the most common question I hear is whether or not the cloud is a good place to be.   Many people have asked me over the last few months what the cloud is.  Why it's a good thing? Why it’s a bad thing? And even - why should they care?

My response is usually… it depends

Yes, ‘the cloud’ is forecast as the latest and greatest tool for personal and business computing.

But there’s still confusion about the cloud, and what it means for you.  Basically, the cloud is another term for the Internet; a collection of computers, hooked together to provide much more power or storage space than just one computer.

These computers in the sky (really, huge data server farms physically sprinkled across the country and the world) can be accessed from almost any device with an Internet connection.

Get Your Head out of the Clouds

Cloud computing means you are accessing files and programs on the Internet, not your own computer.

Like anything that has to do with technology, the cloud brings all the possibilities of convenience and worries about security.

Technologists regularly say the cloud is to your data what the bank is to your money. Keep the cash in a safe in your basement, and it’s probably secure. Put it in the bank and you surrender security to somebody else in return for interest and the convenience that comes with checking, debit cards, and ATMs.

Unplug your network cable, lock your data up on a hard drive, and it’s hard for anyone to steal your secrets. Put them in a seemingly secure place on the Internet, and there’s a risk that some thief might hack your stuff.

But for convenience, the cloud backs up your virtual goodies in case your home computer breaks down. As long as you’ve got the Internet, you’ve got access to all your digital stuff wherever you are.  Cloud computing stores your digital belongings on remote computer servers rather than on your own hardware. That means you don’t have to buy as much physical storage. In the end, because the servers are shared and used to fuller capacity, it’s a cheaper way to store things.

Without trying very hard you’ve probably been on the cloud for a while. If you’ve used an email account from Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail, you’ve trusted part of your life to the cloud. Likewise, if you listen to music on Pandora, you’ve tapped into its possibilities. What is YouTube if not a cloud depository of video?

Soon the device you’ll need is going to rely on the cloud as the home base for all its thinking; so your hardware can afford to be relatively “dumb.”

Life spent with your head in the clouds will pose some complications. Forrester Research issued a report earlier this month suggesting that people tap into so many online services they end up confused: Where are my photos, my online bank accounts, my employer’s health benefit management page? Forrester says 29 percent of Americans can’t keep track of all their usernames and passwords. That may be why people are scared of the cloud. Nearly a third don’t back up their files outside their home, leaving them vulnerable to theft or fire or computer breakdown.

Of course, the cloud has its limits.

Take your computer somewhere the Internet can’t reach, and the upside vanishes. A downside rests in the risk that someone might tap into whatever information you’ve stored with others. Think again of the bank analogy, but without the FDIC. If your data get exposed, nothing is secret again. Just this year there have been sizable data breaches at Sony, Citi, Lockheed Martin, New York Yankees, and the International Monetary Fund.

Many highly regulated industries are now beginning to build their own clouds.  A private cloud can contain much of the same part that the internet has allowing those companies who have a regulatory obligation to maintain control of their data

In general, consumers trade privacy for convenience.

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