Q: What is the Cloud and How Can I Use It?

A: In the 'old days', we'd each have a desktop or laptop computer, where we'd install software programs to run applications such as word processing or spreadsheets, and our work would be stored right on that computer, aka your 'local drive'.  If your drive was damaged, you'd lose your files, or if you wanted to work on the same project at home and at work, you might need to transport files between two computers using a portable diskette.

Nowadays, with individuals on the go all the time, and families spread out geographically, 'cloud computing' is the mobile solution. Conceptually, everything that you create on a device, such as taking a picture with your smartphone, or writing an email on your tablet, or setting up a spreadsheet on your laptop, can all be stored 'up to the cloud in the sky', and then pulled back down onto another device when you are somewhere else.

This type of cloud computing has many advantages. You don't need to worry about running out of space on your 'local drive', because a lot of your files can be stored in the cloud. You have a 'backup' of your data and photos off-site in the event something happens to your 'local drive'. A lot of your files are wirelessly synchronized to the cloud, so you can view and change your data on various devices in different places, as long as you can get an internet connection to the cloud.

However, there are also drawbacks. Because operating in the cloud has become so effortless, you may not always be paying attention to what is being automatically synced from your devices to the cloud. You may think that your photos are being backed up, or that your private address book is not. Note that unless you check your 'settings' and coordinate these activities, the cloud might not be working for you in the way that you expect.

Also, the cloud has varying degrees of security, so you would hardly want to store your banking information, passwords, or private photos in the 'insecure' areas of the cloud. This brings us to questions of where is the cloud and who runs it?  Technically, the cloud is really a network of remote computer servers 'hosted' on the internet and used to store your data. Different companies pay for and run server 'farms' to accommodate their customers.

For example, if you use Gmail, then your emails are being stored in Google's cloud. If you use Apple iPhones and iPads, your texts, address book, photos and many other things are being synced to Apple's iCloud. If you buy a movie video from Amazon, you are streaming it from servers maintained by that company. Thus, there are many clusters of technology clouds globally, some larger than others, just like the real clouds! 

Hope that this article was helpful. Tech has made things better, but not necessarily easier.