What is cloud computing used for? Everyone’s heard of cloud computing by this point, but how many people really understand what it actually is? How many people, even in the software industry, truly understand what this concept actually means, and what purpose it serves? It’s become what’s known as a buzzword, or a term of high interest and with an assumed value, that value being something undefined to many who assume their neighbor understands it.
This is a sociological trend that we as a species have a tendency to do, but in this age of information, we have the opportunity to remedy this when it arises. We can start here, with answering the question of, what is cloud computing used for?
First, let’s actually talk for a moment about what cloud computing actually is. Contrary to the sound of it, it has nothing to do with satellites or anything altitude-oriented directly. Cloud is just a generalization for a non-centralized “haze” of data in a series of interlinked states. In this case, cloud computing is a form of remoting, utilizing TCP/IP (internet connectivity) to access.
A process is executed or data stored remotely on one or many parallel servers, and an interface on a local device simply displays results and relays input from the user to these remote locations. What differentiates this from just a standard server and website is that most server side storage and execution is not from one server, or even one data center, but often a series of very physically distant units connected by a virtual network called a VPN. There are often redundancies within them, two or three units performing a task given, or storing the data in question, while only the closest or fastest one for a given user serves the results back.
So, what is this used for, and why? Well, it’s used fort a myriad of things actually, but let’s look at three primary uses for it. One is just now starting to be tested, and that’s consumer supercomputing. A single consumer device, such as a mobile, tablet, console or PC is limited in capacity, but a series of interlinked redundant servers randomly allocated across the globe can add up to an immense computing power collectively. So, theoretically, PCs and other devices need only handle rendering output and interpreting/relaying input from the user, and the computing is handled remotely. Any device can, then, become a supercomputer.
But, for more tried and true applications for the concept, there’s file backups and hosting services. Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive and Apple iCloud are examples of this, as is Karobonite. These are services that allow a remote storage medium to be mounted locally like a hard drive, and interacted with as such by the user from whatever given device they choose. They can save, edit, view and retrieve files from it as long as their bandwidth permits. Its advantages are for one, it’s managed scaled storage space. Users may buy the amount of additional space they need, as they need it, rather than purchasing expensive, fixed-size hard drives or SD cards to upgrade their local capacity.
This also brings a level of security, as the data is remotely stored so a stolen or hacked machine or drive cannot occur and sensitive data tampered with or copied. Furthermore, given the redundancy we discussed a minute ago, this also allows for safety of backups, as if one server fails, a redundant store of the same data inside the cloud can take its place and so on. It’s an organic kind of system really.
Lastly, though related to the same services, is the collaborative capacity that cloud computing with things like Google Drive and Microsoft SharePoint allow. Having a centralized series of servers to store data to and interact with allows, through clever programming, for users with like permissions to work collaboratively on files and projects from distant locations not even on the same local network. This allows collaborative work to get done by anyone anywhere.
Something else of note is due to it being handled off location by servers, any device can interface with the system, making it perfectly cross-compatible if the interface is a standard format that is itself cross platform.
So, what is cloud computing used for? Storage, security, collaboration and soon, consumer supercomputing.