Saturday, December 20, 2014
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What Is “The Cloud”?

by Brett

Lately, there has been a lot of talk online about “the cloud.” Everywhere you turn, lively conversations about cloud services, moving to the cloud, cloud this, and cloud that seem to assume we all understand what “the cloud” means.

Practically and simply expressed, “the cloud” means “available through/on the internet.”(Techies Take Note: Exceptions abound, but for purposes of this discussion, this definition suffices.)

When you put a letter in the mail do you tell the post office which delivery route to take? This may seem like a silly question but there is a point behind it. The delivery service provided by the US Mail for physical objects has its own routing mechanism that will get your package to its destination based on the address. You don’t really care how it gets there as long as it gets there. This is an example of a cloud routing system. You toss the package in—the address is analyzed—the package is routed according the means available to the system that is delivering the package – the package it delivered.

The internet operates on the same principle. When you connect to Yahoo.com, the message from your computer to Yahoo and back again goes across the network using a path that selected by the devices called routers that act as traffic cops on the internet. Routers are extremely complex devices. They know about each other and will accept traffic and pass it along to the best-known path toward a specific destination. As a user, you don’t need to know about routers at all. While you browse the internet, the routers do the heavy lifting in the background. Email, voice, video…every piece of information traveling across the internet (pretty much), uses this same mechanism. But all you care about is that you find the information you want, your email is delivered correctly, and so forth.

A network that routes traffic dynamically through an unpredictable path is known as a “cloud network.” The internet is a cloud network. Therefore, to be “on the internet” means to be “in the cloud.” Ebay is a cloud service. Hotmail is a cloud service. Google is a cloud service. Contrast this to a “dedicated network connection” which requires the computer be wired through a specific known path to a remote data center or service. Dedicated connections have their place, as when a service must ensure different types of internet traffic do not mix. But users pay a premium for a dedicated connection.

So what’s the big buzz about cloud services? For one thing, all sorts of services such as Google, Ebay, and World of Warcraft are moving to the cloud. And you’ll find all sorts of new services that never existed before the surge in today’s cloud computing.

Netflix is a good example, providing video streaming on demand through the internet on a massive scale. While you could stream free video before—YouTube is an example—you pay for Netflix. The sheer scale of Netflix services is rocking the industry (and the stock prices of Blockbuster). The cloud is enabling new frontiers in ecommerce.

Yes, the cloud makes once-costly services far more affordable. And this brings us to my favorite subject, Microsoft Office 365, today’s hottest cloud service for business. For example, Microsoft’s Office 365 provides a service called Lync Online. This service allows a business as small as one person to provide online hosted seminars for up to 250 attendees.

The point is that cloud services like Office 365 now make it possible for businesses of all sizes to enjoy and afford the same productivity tools larger corporations have accessed for years.

So the next time “the cloud” comes up in conversation, you can say with authority that it simply means accessing service available via the internet.

Without a doubt, the cloud is poised to forever change business as we know it.

Brett Hill

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