Thursday, July 5, 2012

What I Mean When I Say "The Cloud"

English: Kingston DataTraveler 110 8GB USB fla...

The technology industry loves to create new words and combine old ones in new ways. One recent example of this is "The cloud". You pretty much can't go wrong if you use it in any sentence that is technology related these days but what does it mean?

I'm going to briefly explain what it means to me. With a bit of luck I'll manage to do this in a way that actually makes sense to those of you who don't live inside my head.

The cloud to me is a way of providing instant access to my data along with on the fly backup. This BLOG is an example. I can edit a post from anywhere, stop in the middle of a sentence and pickup my editing right where I left off regardless of what device I'm using and possibly weeks or months later. I don't have to remember to copy stuff to a thumb drive, email a copy to myself or do anything else. I know that there is one golden copy and it lives on Google's huge server farm some place. Ignorance is bliss so far as the details are concerned. I deal with IT related issues every day at my day job, I don't want to at home.

I think that is a fairly typical "man on the street" attitude when it comes to "the cloud". What most of us care about is how technology makes our lives easier and/or more productive.

Where things get messy is when we're out of touch with "the cloud". Google messed the initial version of the Chrome book up by not taking that scenario into account. Yes, I love having all my data available at any time but as wonderful as that world is, Internet connectivity isn't pervasive yet and it may never be. There are simply too many places where linking to the "connected world" may never be cost effective.

My key point is I like having access to my data and having the experience of managing and editing it be as seamless as possible. Any solution that doesn't include some form of offline functionality is going to fall short of the mark. Distributed data models such as the one built into Dropbox have downsides but on balance I like them because they cache my data and make it available locally even if some complexity is introduced by this caching of data.

So really, its less about the cloud and more about having ready access to my data. How that access is managed doesn't matter to me so long as the system handles situations where I'm not connected to the Internet in a way that allows me to see and manipulate my data. The same goes for the processing side of the cloud equation. I don't find the concept of computing devices that are essentially display only very exciting. They work great in certain situations but are not always a good fit.

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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