what cloud computing really means

A Non-Techies Guide to Understanding Cloud Computing

Working at a SaaS vendor, I often assume my work terminology is easily understood by friends and family but I was reminded just today that this is not already the case. When the topic came up while visiting my parent, I realized that my dad didn’t know what it was even though he uses it every day. He admittedly didn’t even really understand what I do here at MangoApps. That got me thinking that maybe understanding cloud computing is key to understanding how you use it every day and how it works to support effective collaboration.

In The Cloud

There are many different definitions of what is cloud computing is. Understanding cloud computing is something we might comprehend indirectly but do not fully understand all of its capabilities. Most people don’t realize that web-based email like Gmail or Hotmail are in the cloud. Facebook is in the cloud too. Some define cloud computing as an “updated version of utility computing” or by a broader terminology like, “anything you consume outside the firewall” as being in the cloud. But that doesn’t answer really what it is, what it does or really even what that means.

Understanding Cloud Computing

Understanding Cloud Computing

Simply put, “the cloud” is a platform where we have been working and playing for a long time. It’s really nothing more than the Internet. But what about that “computing” aspect? Take an internet service like AOL, where you received the “new and improved version” of the software on a CD-ROM and install it on your local hardware. You would then have the AOL software running on your own hardware in your own home or office. This was no different than using another local software like Microsoft Office. You would connect to a server like a chat room and in turn connect to other users, who also installed the AOL software locally from a CD-ROM. You were connecting over the internet to the AOL servers and technically even “cloud computing” way back then, but the software itself was locally installed on individual computers.

Fast forward a few years to present day cloud computing. It’s the same basic software, but running on hardware on the internet instead of being installed locally. Even AOL is now installed in some data center up there in the cloud. So what is cloud computing? The cloud means that instead of running software on your local machine, you are now using your web browser to get to it. They are installing the software you normally would, but instead of sending you multiple CD’s to install on your PC, they keep it up to date for you and run it on their hardware and have you connect through the internet. Games, email, social networking are just a short, common list of what you most likely do in the cloud every day.

What About File Sharing?

I broke this down for my dad and he seemed to understand cloud computing. Now he wanted to know what he can do with it. My parents are on Facebook, they have Android phones, use Gmail and even do a little blogging. Their big hurdle is sharing and syncing files and they wanted to know how that worked securely with the cloud. They remembered Napster and they recently got a scam email invitation to share a chunk of their hard drive and memory to gain access to shared files. As small business owners, this scared them a bit. A friend suggested a cloud storage system with automatic file sync to their PCs and mobile devices, and they were a bit hesitant. I reminded them they forward just about every email with cool or interesting pictures to me, so they regularly share information on the Internet. They just weren’t connecting how file sharing happens in the cloud and what it means for their security.

Understanding Cloud Computing

Knowing diagram might help with understanding cloud computing file sharing, I drew out a quick diagram for them. I drew a big circle at the top making it puffy like a cloud. Then drew smaller circles down below for each of their devices and PCs with lines going back to the cloud. The diagram showed them as you add a file here, it uploads there, and back down to each of you other devices. Nothing else required. They could do it with any file they wanted to share, and they could even automatically share pictures they take on their Android phones to the cloud and instantly have them available on their laptop when they get home, or to share online on Facebook.

Understanding Cloud Computing Safety

When concerned over safety and letting people have access to their files I reminded them that it is safer and more secure to share them through this service than email. Once you send the email it’s gone and never to return. It can be forwarded 100 times and you never get control back…it’s gone. Conversely, I pointed out, using the cloud and sharing just the link keeps the file sharing in their control. You can disable the link or move the file if you no longer want it shared. Also, as an added benefit, that single link always points to the latest version of the file. When you make a correction or update the spreadsheet you don’t need to resend or email the file back to the recipients. It’s all updated real-time in the cloud.

After the diagrams and simple explanation, I helped them set up all of their devices so their files and pictures were synced. They that they have an of understanding cloud computing I turned to my dad and said,”Now you know what I do for a living.” He just smiled and nodded letting me know he finally truly understood. MangoApps is cloud-agnostic. We believe in providing the choice to our customers and have built the system so that it can run in any cloud (Amazon EC2 cloud, RackSpace cloud) or even on-premise behind customer’s firewall. Learn more about various ways you can easily deploy social networking solution at your business in the cloud or on-premise.