The cloud refers to computers and data that reside in computers you don’t control, all accessible via the Internet. When you do a search on Google or Bing, all the data and the programs that process it are in the cloud. Your computer, tablet or phone is just being used as a “client” to request the search and to receive the results. All that you ever see on your device is the results.
There is a lot of good stuff available this way. For instance, the movies you watch streaming on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video or YouTube are all in the cloud. All you do with your computer is play them. The entire movie itself is never stored there. If you use email from Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail, all the messages and mechanism are in the cloud. You see only the actual emails themselves. In some cases, they are never on your computer other than to see.
Another example is Google Docs, a service that lets you create, edit and store documents. it works just like the familiar Microsoft Office, but you don’t have to install anything on your computer and the documents are all saved in the cloud. There are backup services like Carbonite or Crashplan that save your data to the cloud in case your computer fails. SImilar services like Box, Dropbox, SkyDrive or Google Drive let you store documents, photos and music in the cloud.
The advantage of cloud services is that they extend the power of your devices without requiring you to buy more hardware or software. With your data in the cloud, you can get at them from any of your devices, not just the one you used for creation. And if your device dies or is lost, your data are safe.
Potential downsides of cloud services are the risk of loss of your data in case the host company goes out of business, as well as possible risks of privacy if your data are not adequately protected. And of course, you have to be connected to the Internet to use cloud services.
The cloud is an important part of today’s technology world, touching our computers, tablets and smart phones.