Photo via Flickr.
Until about 4 months ago, I hadn’t really grasped the concept of cloud computing. Alot of tech people would talk about it as if it were the holy grail and it was a concept used to applaud the innovation behind the Kindle. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get it.
Cloud computing is the concept that all information is stored outside the device you use to interact with the data. For example, if you have a computer, your programs might be installed on the computer (called a local install or a client install) but all the data that you create would be stored somewhere else, in the cloud.
The perfect example is blogging. The only local software I have installed is a browser (I use Chrome). From the browser, I am able to access the blogging software and all the data is stored outside of my laptop. Gmail or Yahoo is an example of cloud computing. Your emails can be accessed via your browser from anywhere there is web connection. Your emails are not device dependent.
For the Kindle, all the books that you can read on the device is stored at the Amazon servers. The theory behind this remote storage system is that the information can be accessed at any time, from anywhere that you have access to the Sprint cellular signal.
The ideal of cloud computing is that wherever you can access the internet, no matter the operating sysem of your device, you can access your data.
For anyone with more than one computing device, cloud computing is very attractive. If you are home, on vacation, or in your office, you can access and manipulate your data. Cloud computing also enables the crowd sourcing. This can be best exemplified by Google Docs. If you create a document in Google Docs, you can share that document with other people. They can collaborate with you and make changes. (This works great for SB Sarah and I as we work together to craft announcements and schedules for the DABWAHA).
So what brought me to an understanding of the benefits of cloud computing? It was dropbox. I wanted a way that I could synchronize my ebook library between my netbook and main laptop. Dropbox allows a synchronization between any number of devices of documents placed in a certain folder. Dropbox immediately recognizes that a new document or a newly modified document should be uploaded to the Dropbox servers and then it is “pushed” to the folder of those computers that are set to synchronize. Dropbox helps me maintain only one database for my ebook files but one database I can access anywhere.
It also helps to provide redundancy. In other words, the same data exists on at least three computers – the Dropbox server, my netbook, and my laptop – the three computers that I have set to synchronize that data. Recently, I’ve added all my iTunes purchases in the dropbox so that my husband and I can share the movies, music, and tv shows we buy.
There are online backup services like Mozy and Carbonite which include some cloud like abilities. I also recognize that true cloud computing is more than merely acessing of data and the movement of data from one device to another. True cloud computing is like wordpress blogging and google apps wherein the software to access and manipulate the data runs platform independent and from the web.
There are downsides to cloud computing. If there is no way to access the data other than through the web, you are losing control over your own data. For example, if you buy Kindle books via the iPhone there is no easy way to obtain copies of those files whereas with the Kindle device, you had the option to download the files to your laptop. There is no true ownership over those files purchased with the iTouch and pursuant to the Kindle useragreement, they can restrict your access to those files at any time for any reason.
To the extent, though, that cloud computing forces more platform independent software and allows us to access and manage our information whereever we are, the closer we are to harnessing technology for our benefit, making our devices work for us.