What is the cloud and why should you care?
What is the Cloud?
You've probably heard of the cloud before, maybe from your work colleagues, friends or even family members. It's been a buzzword for the last few years, but what exactly is it and why should you care? I'll start by answering the former. Google's dictionary defines cloud computing as: the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer. But that's an awful description in my opinion, allow me to take a crack at it. When people use the term 'cloud' or 'the cloud' they are usually referring to a way of storing data online such as documents, pictures or even notes. Many people consider it an alternative to data storage devices such as USB sticks (flash drives), CD-roms and floppy discs (people still use them?). But they are not simply just an alternative to storage devices, anything that is in the cloud can be accessed by you from anywhere. From your phone, laptop or work computer.
To give an example: say I'm writing a report for work and I decide to write it at home. Instead of going through the tedious job of putting it on a USB stick or even emailing it to myself I simply just place it in the 'Dropbox' folder in my documents; and like magic it in is my dropbox folder at work. Of course the example I used there was if I was using the cloud storage service 'Dropbox'. Other cloud applications will have different methods of how to use them.
Now for the bigger question, why should you care? Why wouldn't you care? Cloud storage services allow you to have all your most precious and important files in a place that can be accessed anywhere. It means you no longer have to worry about doing a certain projects on certain computers or even losing those documents. You can take your work home with ease, or (even better perhaps) you can work on your personal projects at work; so long as nobody finds out :')
A Brief History of the Cloud
The history of the cloud and cloud computing actually dates surprisingly far back. Our journey will begin in 1969 with a man named J. C. R. Licklider; a computer scientist. He had an idea of creating a system where anybody from anywhere could access the same files. With that in mind he helped created ARPANET, a primitive version of the internet we know today (although in this hub I am mostly talking about services which allow you access your own files from anywhere, cloud computing is much more than this. Technically everything on the internet is 'in the cloud' in the sense that it can be accessed from anywhere too). ARPANET was a huge network, used by the United States Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, allowing certain people to receive certain data.
Even Though we've had the internet for many years now, it wasn't until just a few years ago that cloud storage services could be a reality. This is due to the massive advances we've made when it comes to bandwidth (the amount of information that can transmitted at one given time). Before it would have been almost impossible to give and take files to and from the internet (the cloud). Before cloud storage services were available to the masses they was available to businesses. In 2002 Amazon unveiled 'Amazon Web Services'. It offered businesses the opportunity to store certain files (mainly images) in their very own cloud. Amazon Web Services is still used today. At around 2009, other cloud services were emerging, this time for ordinary people, not just businesses. In 2009 Google announced its service called Google Drive.
Other Data Storage
Of course there are many other ways to store and move data. The most common one is CD's or CD-ROM's. The way these work is by scanning their reflective side with light lasers. The lasers then transmit the data they received to the computer. USB sticks (or flash drives) are also used by many to transfer data. You would plug your flash dive into your computers USB port/socket and a new folder (or drive) would appear in your documents. At that point you would just drag and drop files in and out. Due to the small size of these flash drives, they were perfect for carrying data around. The last other storage device I am going to cover is the SD card. Mostly used by cameras, SD cards offered a great way to transfer data. SD cards, and micro-SD cards, are used by cameras because of their small size, they make it easy way to move images to your computer.
The NSA and Privacy
If you don't already know, the NSA wants to know what you are doing online and it will try its hardest to find out. They plan on checking through your internet history, websites you visit and documents you place in the cloud. The good news is that many cloud storage services will try to protect you as best as they can. At the moment there are only a handful of online organizations that wholeheartedly support the NSA's agenda and will give away all of your data to them. Luckily Dropbox and Evernote (two cloud storage applications) promise not to do this. Many others do too. Now, more than ever, is the time to check the terms and conditions before signing up to anything.
Which Storage App to Choose
Now to finish off this hub, lets discuss some cloud storage services and find out which one's are best suited to you. By the way you don't need to stick to just one storage service, the three I am about to review are ones I use everyday.
Dropbox is my alltime favourite cloud storage service, it allows you to simply drag and drop your files or documents into a folder on your computer. Said folder is hooked up to the internet and sends it to your online folder. This way it can be accessed from anywhere. I love Dropbox because you can use it with any documents what-so-ever, not just images, PDF's or word documents. It can handle literally anything.
iCloud allows you to sync and access files from almost any Apple produce (e.g. Mac's, iPhones, iPods, iPads). Some files can be accessed from Windows devices too. iCloud is not for everything though, only some types of files can use it, for instance Keynote files can be placed in iCloud (Keynote is the Apple equivalent of Powerpoint).
Google Drive is the most powerful cloud storage service I have ever used. Not just does it allow you to access files from anywhere but it also allows you to make files with it. With Google Drive comes a handful of new applications designed to work in perfect harmony with it. Instead of using Microsoft word it has Google Docs, instead of Powerpoint it has Google Presentations; and so on. Not just that but you can also 'share' files. To share means to send it to somebody else who also uses Google Drive. You can allow them to just look at it or to alter it themselves.
Both Dropbox and Google Drive are free and available to anybody. If you own an Apple product the chances are it has iCloud integrated into it, meaning you can use it too.