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    What is the cloud?

    Thursday, October 10, 2013
    What is the cloud? I often hear people say “the cloud” and simultaneously their eyes or head motion upwards, as if that is where their data really is! The cloud is deeply rooted in the physical world, we just can't see it.

    Where does the concept of the cloud come from?

    Talk to a “tech” guy about the cloud, and he may draw you a picture like this:


    Illustration 1: The Cloud - Basic

    This is a standard representation of a network just like yours at home or in your business. A small network of devices connected to a switch, then a router, and then the cloud. (Sometimes the router and switch are the same device)

    Essentially, this cloud represents everything outside of your network.

    As a business, you may have a second office, or a bunch of stores that all connect back to a main office through the cloud. It could be represented like this:


    Illustration 2: The Cloud - as a WAN 

    Now the cloud looks like a mysterious place that data goes to and somehow ends up at the right place. In fact, the cloud in this illustration merely represents the connections between parts of your business that you do not manage. Not exactly what today's definition of the cloud is. Lets look at another picture:

    Illustration 3: The Cloud - Internet Server

    Ahhh, that's better! WHAT? How is that clearer? Well remember I said the cloud was deeply rooted in the physical world...

    That server on the right could belong to Apple (for your iCloud account), or Google (for your Google Drive or Gmail) for examples. In fact, your internet based email (@gmail, @hotmail, @live etc) have always been in the cloud, just no one ever called it that.

    I remember when I was a child, it was holidays and I was staying with my grandmother. She asked me to get the “Hoover” for her! What is the “Hoover” I asked. From the look on her face I think she thought I was being smug, but my look of bewilderment at her question softened her, then she asked for the vacuum cleaner, a term I did know!

    Apparently, back in the day, the word “Hoover” was synonymous with 'Vacuum Cleaner'. It seems that we have an updated version of this happening now.

    Prior to “The cloud”, all the data you currently access in the cloud was kept in 'server farms', or 'data centres', or 'server clusters'. No glamorous images invoked here! None the less, the cloud is still this same concept. I must point out here, Data Centres, as a service, are on the grow in the business world and this term will be sticking around for some time I imagine.

    So what does the cloud actually look like? Depends how you think about it. If you are talking about all the routers that decide how you get from where you are to the website you want to look at, it looks like this...


    Kind of cloud like. If you are thinking more along the lines of “Where is the photo I put on Google Drive to share with my Aunty overseas?” It looks more like this...



    Not Glamorous, but very exciting! Data Centres, The Cloud, (you get the picture) have been used by large companies for years. A bank, for example, will have a primary data centre with a room full of servers, and then a second building with a room full of servers, a third, a fourth!! This is for a number of reasons, it gives plenty of processing power to people connecting to their online services, and it gives redundancy (in case a server fails or an Internet link gets chopped by the the council making way for a new footpath). Imagine your bank having all your data in only one location, and it gets flooded, or burns to the ground?

    Services such as Dropbox, will look strangely like the pictures above, and in a number of locations. Increasingly, businesses, large and small, are storing data in, or backing-up to, the cloud. But the landscape is changing a little on this too.

    Where do you put the cloud?

    Anywhere but where you are!

    It was the 911 attacks, that put this in front of people, when a story regarding Cantor-Fitzgerald, a global bond trading firm, bore the terrible brunt of the first plane strike on the North Tower. They were on floors 101-105, and 733 people lost their lives, 150 of which were IT professionals. With the attack, their primary network was gone, but immediately switched to their backup data centres in Rochelle Park, New Jersey, and in London, UK. No data was lost and the business continues today. (Gibson, 2013)

    This story illustrates one of the powers of the cloud. Having geographically disparate data centres holding your precious data just in case. For some really cool images from a Swedish server farm made from reformed bunkers, check out this story.

    So what does this mean for you?

    Firstly, be confident storing data or backing up to the cloud. There is just too much riding on respectable and well-branded cloud hosts to make a mess of things, and your data is always in at least two places now, not just in your house or office.

    Secondly, keep security in front of mind. It is only a user-name and password between the world and your data. At your office I can prevent anyone accessing your network, regardless of passwords, I can't do this on the Internet.

    Lastly, look at what it can do for you. I know a designer that has old drawings on her computer from years ago that she may or may not look at again. The cloud can be used as a 'Cold Storage Vault' so to speak and leave the data you are using right now local, freeing up space for you. Project teams can use the cloud for messaging, data storage, a document management system (DMS), almost anything.

    To see photos of one of Facebook's Data Centres, check this out.

    Got an idea of your own?

    If nothing else, the cloud is an enabler for you to do great things. Believe it or not, but there was a time when Google, Facebook and Dropbox did not exist. What idea do you have? There are free services on line by cloud hosts that you can sign up to, and just have a go. You can test your own ideas and maybe, just maybe, be the next big thing the Internet has to offer. Give the cloud a go!

    Written by Adam Moonen

    © APM Communications – You. Connected.