In this lesson, we’ll look at cloud computing, which is an area of computer technology focused on providing computer services over the Internet. Following the lesson, you can take a quiz.

Definition of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a method of delivering technology to the consumer by using Internet servers for processing and data storage, while the client system uses the data. While in the past, software had to be shipped on a CD-ROM, and updates had to be downloaded afterwards to keep the software secure and bug-free, cloud computing allows vendors to deliver software and services over the Internet without the need for traditional media or installation. A related idea is called Software as a Service, or SAAS. When the Internet, as a network, became capable of transmitting large amounts of data in a short period of time, it became possible to offer not just simple web pages, but entire services online.

The client system could be a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a phone, or a TV. Cloud computing allows the client to be a very thin client. A thin client is a computing device which has very little computing power. Thin clients can be either hardware based (perhaps a refrigerator terminal), or software based (most often the browser program is considered a thin client).

What Is the Cloud?

Where does the expression ‘the cloud’ come from? When designing computer networks, engineers often connect computers to each other with lines. Such lines represent cables and connections. Switches and servers are also often connected to each other in this way.

When networks are connected to one another, engineers often use an abbreviation or representation of a network – a drawing of a cloud. A cloud represents a network we don’t know much about, perhaps a network we don’t own, or a network that provides connectivity in its own way. From here, the external network of the Internet has always been drawn as a cloud. Many services today are called cloud services. The Internet, as a network, provides private parties and companies with many inexpensive alternatives to owning their own services.

Advantages of Cloud Computing

The first advantage of cloud computing is the simplicity. In order to use a cloud-based backup, all you need to do is install a client program and start using it. In the past you would have to install software, connect to external hard drives, physically secure the drives, duplicate the storage of the backup in case it got damaged, etc. Today, all of these steps are performed by the backup company; you just need to be connected to the Internet. It’s the same for saving your documents with or sharing your photos through iCloud.

The second advantage is the up-front cost. For a relatively small subscription fee, you get to enjoy an enterprise-level service. If you were to purchase the servers yourself, it would be a much, much higher up-front cost. If you no longer want the service, you aren’t stuck with costly hardware or telecommunications investments; you simply stop using the service.

The third advantage is the ubiquitous availability. If you use Apple Music, you purchase a song once. Apple stores it for you and allows you to play it through the browser as many times as you wish. Later, in the car, you can play the same song on your phone. Finally, at your friend’s house, you can use their computer to play the song under your Apple account. The service follows you wherever you are at an Internet connection.

Disadvantages of Cloud Computing

The first disadvantage of cloud computing is sustainability. If you are using Google Docs as your main company document management system, you become dependent on Google. While Google is a strong company, some cloud companies do go out of business. Your business may suffer when your provider is no longer there. You may even lose data or business.

The second concern is privacy. If you store your business documents with Google, does Google read them or use them? Many companies will provide legal agreements reassuring customers that they keep the data private. Since the data is out of your control, this remains as a concern.

The third concern is security. Since you have to transmit the data to the cloud provider, a strong layer of security is required. While the Internet today is generally secure, the base for this security is RSA encryption. New types of computers, quantum computers, are believed to hack RSA encryption with ease. If this technology becomes available to consumers, HTTPS sites and cloud services will be vulnerable to attacks.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Cloud computing is a method of delivering technology to the consumer by using Internet servers for processing and data storage, while the client system uses the data. That originated from a network diagram. It is related to Software as a Service (SAAS), which is what it sounds like – software offered as an online service. Cloud computing also allows the client to be a very thin client, which is a computing device which has very little computing power.

Cloud computing has effectively eliminated the need for CD-ROMs and physical media for software and has become so ubiquitous that you use it in not just your phones and computers but also your TVs and refrigerators, not to mention it’s saved a lot of money. Advantages of cloud computing include simplicity, up-front cost, and ubiquitous availability, while disadvantages include sustainability, privacy, and security, the base of which is RSA encryption.