Monday, June 21, 2010

What can the Cloud do for You?

We keep hearing about it... The Cloud, like it's some new and bold idea.  Actually it's a fairly old idea as technology goes, but it's a good one and I think it is really starting to come of age.  The idea goes back as far as the computer network.  Back in the day, when networks were first created, data could be stored on a server and then accessed from any workstation on the network.  It's a great idea.  Store the data centrally and then use it from any machine that has access to the server.

The Cloud is that philosophy with the twist of putting the server on the Internet.  Thus the Internet becomes the network and the server can be accessed with any computer that has an Internet connection.

The simplest form of this for a lot of people is email.  If you have a yahoo or gmail account for your email, that's cloud computing.  Your messages are stored on the company's servers and you get your email anytime you're on line.  Obviously this can greatly simplify your life since you don't have to keep email software running or worry about backing up your account.  All of that is taken care of for you by professionals.  Online banking?  Same thing.  Point your browser to the bank website enter your username and password, and you have full access to the data you need with no backing up or anything else on your end.

We're finally getting to the point where this is really a reliable way to run a huge part of your life.  For me, my contacts and articles are backed up and available to me through a variety of sites.  Should I suffer a crash on my primary machine I still have access to my data from any computer with Internet access until I can get the primary machine restored and back online.

There are several sites and services that will allow you to do this and this list is by no way meant to be inclusive.  I currently use MobileMe (from Apple), Google Docs, SugarSync, and Glide Desktop.  Each of these services allows limited amounts of storage and even the ability to edit the documents you store directly from the website.

The convenience of The Cloud cannot be overstated.  Here's a great example of what you can easily accomplish with little intervention other than installing some software.  On my Mac I have a program called "Spanning Sync" installed.  Whenever I make a change to my calendar or my contacts on my Mac, Spanning Sync recognizes the change and then sends that info to my iGoogle account.  This means new/changed appointments or contacts are quickly updated in The Cloud which allows my schedule to be updated and viewable; usually in a matter of seconds.  Then let's take this one step further.  Last summer when I purchased my Palm Pre, one of the choices during setup was to use info from my iGoogle account.  One the phone was activated by Sprint all I had to do was put in my Google username and password.  Within a few minutes my complete calendar and contact list was downloaded and in my phone with no effort at all on my part.  Of course, changing something on my phone means it will change on Google and Spanning Sync will catch that and make the necessary changes on my Mac... and all of this normally happens in the background without me even thinking about it.

And, of course, the "without me even thinking about it" is the way it's supposed to be right?  I mean, for me a lot of this is the Holy Grail of technology.  When I can have things in my life happen that make things easier for me and keep me organized with minimal effort on my part.  The Cloud is really one of those game changers that I love and I'm embracing it more and more.  In addition to my normal blogging on all things tech, I'm going to be making some more detailed posts over the summer on some specific cloud based applications that I use and love.

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