Whether it’s Microsoft’s “To The Cloud!” commercials, or cell phone companies trying to sell you internet that can give you windburn, there’s always some sort of newfangled word or acronym out there that is just not quite clear as to what it means. Here, we’re going to try to lift the veil of advertising and glitter to expose the truth and meaning of those often confusing terms.
“To The Cloud!!”
“What? Now we have to deal with weather on the Internet too?”
Well… Not really.
For quite a while now, companies and nerds alike have been depicting and explaining the Internet as a big, digital cloud that hovers over your computer. While this metaphor isn’t perfect (and let’s be honest, almost any metaphor for the internet has its flaws), it’s the best way to describe the internet to those who aren’t as fascinated with the details and inner workings of the Internet as I am. So, let’s start there.
Assuming the internet is a cloud hovering over your computer, we can make a few mental images that may help with keeping terminology straight. (don’t worry, I’ll keep the nerd jargon to a minimum, but it can be helpful to know a few things about the nature of the Internet before going deeper.)
When you type ‘google.com’ into your browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, etc.), and press enter, you are telling your computer to find that specific page and download (receive) it. From the cloud metaphor, the data and code that makes Google.com what it is, is coming down out of the cloud to your computer. Download (get it?). Now this type of downloading happens every time you click on a link or go to a page, so you might not even realize it’s happening. But the download process is even more clear when you are downloading a specific file from a website be it a word document, a picture, an MP3, etc.
Okay, so, say you’d like to post a picture on Facebook, or other social website. The way that the picture gets to Facebook.com is by uploading it (see a trend here?). When you upload anything to a web site or other service, you are sending it up to the Internet/cloud.
Alright, so, let’s turn away from the cloud metaphor and talk about the Cloud (capital ‘C’, Cloud. The one you hear about all the time).
When you are making, say, a Word document, you are probably going to save it to your My Documents folder, or somewhere else on your computer. Now, say you have a co-worker who has some information that needs to be added to that document. What does he do to get it there? He could send you the information and have you put it in, but then you have yet another thing to remember to do. He could come to your computer and put it in himself, but that means leaving his computer, and taking yours for a while, keeping you from your stuff and letting him stumble around on an unfamiliar computer. You could e-mail it to him, but when he sends the updated file back to you, you now have two files on your computer with the same name, and that can get really confusing really quickly. What are we to do?
To the Cloud!
Whether you’re using a remote server for storing files that a group of people can access, or you have a system for synchronizing certain files with others, the Cloud can be a powerful tool for efficiently collaborating with other people on a project. Usually ‘cloud computing’ services are those that check in with a server and talk with your computer to keep things up to date and organized.
Let’s take Dropbox for example. When you sign up, you are given a set amount of storage (usually about 2 GB) where you can store anything you want online. If you want to take it a step further, you could download their software, and then your files in your Dropbox show up as normal files in your My Documents folder (assuming you use windows). Take it even further, and you can download the Dropbox software on multiple computers. This way, when you open a file, edit it, and save it, every computer has the most up to date file.
This can be extended even further to expand this tool to something extremely useful by introducing shared folders. When you share a folder from your Dropbox, you allow another Dropbox user to see and manipulate the files as if they were on their computer. Now you can have a team networked together sharing files back and forth faster than ever before thought possible. Just drag it into the folder, and poof, everyone on the project has that file just like it was on their computer to begin with.
Now can you see how the cloud is useful?
Now, if you would like to have this sort of functionality at your job, I would suggest asking your IT department what to use, or have them set you up with their own version of this (IT guys are picky when it comes to their network, and for good reasons). But if you are wanting to do this with your own personal project, then Dropbox or something like it is probably a good solution for you, but there are a wealth of these types of services, and even solutions that don’t need a third party to mediate for you if you are paranoid with your data. As always, when it comes to giving out your personal information, and letting others handle your files, do your research and be informed.