What the heck is this Cloud I’m hearing about constantly? Simply put, the cloud (or more accurately clouds, plural) is an arrangement allowing users to save data in an alternate location via their Internet connection, remote from their own computer disks or systems. Many large corporations such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and lots more offer cloud storage service. The typical model is that a certain amount of storage space is free, and users pay incremental amounts if they need more. After initial setup they are automatic or extremely easy to use.
Is data safe on the cloud? It’s probably much safer than it is on your own computer. Companies use massive banks of servers, in “farms” scattered throughout the world, to create redundancy upon redundancy upon redundancy, thus ensuring data is safe from terrorist attacks, earthquakes, floods, fires and equipment failures. Let’s put it this way: The American CIA, which is thought to be pretty hyper about security, has just hired the Amazon cloud for data backup.
I don’t think I need such a thing. Chances are, you are already using cloud storage for parts of your data. Most people have their email account set up such that messages, contacts and calendars are saved on the servers of their email providers to make them available at second computers, tablets or phones. If you have signed up for online banking, or an account with any web-based merchant, or do any social networking, then at least small bits of data are already “up there.” Microsoft Office, and Apple’s Pages are now being sold on a subscription basis rather than the program being installed on your hard disk, and the default setup is for the data you create to be stored on the cloud. The Chromebook, a budget-priced laptop that we have extolled often in these columns, has such a tiny hard disk that most apps and data are stored externally.
There is an unfortunate sinister dimension to some of this. You may remember scandals of a few years ago, in which compromising photos of many popular personalities, mostly young Hollywood actresses, were published on sleazy websites. This happened in many cases because these people did not realize that their phones and tablets were automatically set up when they were new, to save photos on iCloud, which is Apple’s cloud storage system. Photos that were assumed to be private were hacked from iCloud, back in the days when security was not being taken as seriously as it is today. . . a sad lesson on how important it is to understand the workings of a new device.
You could avoid the cloud completely if you were prepared to take the time to go very carefully through all of the settings on your computer, tablet and phone to make sure that everything was being saved on that device only. The trade off would no doubt be a certain inconvenience but if you had decided that only local storage was important, it would be possible to achieve that.
Next Entry in Cloud – 2, we will look at the implications of cross-border storage of data, additional concerns, and ways in which a few of those concerns may have been overblown. In the meantime, you can start your own research on the subject of the cloud by consulting: