Leery about the cloud? Chances are you've been using it for years

Leery about the cloud? Chances are you've been using it for years

Summary: Talk about the cloud makes some folks nervous. The thought of putting data up in the sky sets some folks on edge. Stand down, odds are you've been using the cloud for years.

TOPICS: Mobility, Cloud

Talk about the cloud is becoming commonplace. The term itself invokes images of a remote place in the sky where people put their precious data, out of reach, and that makes some folks (and companies) downright nervous. It's human nature to want to keep stuff close and the thought of letting go and storing it somewhere "up there" is daunting for some. Truth is, fearing the cloud is unnecessary, especially considering most people have been using it for years.

Thinking about the cloud invokes an image of a giant nameless place far away where data is stored until needed. It's controlled by faceless people keeping the data safe, only allowing owners to access it when everything goes OK.

See related: ZDNet cloud coverage

The reality is far different. The cloud isn't a single place or entity way up high, it's a bunch of computer servers both big and small spread all over the globe. These servers are special data farms that exist to hold on to all kinds of data large and small that belongs to lots of people and companies. The data just sits there until individuals want to use it or modify it.

You may not know it but you're already using the cloud. While it may seem that email has always existed on individual computers, the fact is it's really based in the cloud.

The advantages of storing data in the cloud are numerous, not the least of which is protecting the data from loss due to machine or human failure. In the old days when an individual's hard drive failed it took all the data with it. The lack of a recent backup meant the data was lost forever.

With data in the cloud that's not a concern. The operators of individual "clouds" or servers keep everything backed up just in case, and often they employ storage redundancy for an additional level of recovery in the face of disaster. This makes the cloud far more secure for precious data than local user storage.

If you're still feeling a bit leery of the invisible cloud you might be surprised to know you've almost certainly been using it for years. This usage goes back to before it was called the cloud, but that's what it was.

Odds are you use email and have for years, which with rare exception has always been cloud-based. While it may seem that email has always existed on individual computers, the fact is it's really based in the cloud. All of the email resides on remote servers somewhere and our PCs and mobile devices are just windows into the cloud.

A good way to see the cloud in action is to have email open on a computer or tablet. Go to the inbox and display the list of email messages sitting there. Then go to your email app on a smartphone and go to the same place. Delete one or more messages either on the phone or the computer/tablet and watch the other gadget. You'll likely see the messages you deleted disappear on the other device.

That's because the email really lives in the cloud and all gadgetry used by individuals accesses the remote storage. That's pretty much the way it's been since the early days of email, so most have been using the cloud whether they knew it or not.

Another common use of the cloud is the calendar on your phone. Whether it's Google, Apple, Microsoft, or another service, it's fully cloud-based. That's the reason you can add a new appointment on your phone's calendar and have it show on your tablet. Like the email example above, delete an appointment on one device and watch it disappear on the other. 

So don't fear the cloud. You're already using it as demonstrated above so go ahead and put all your data "up there". It will almost certainly be more secure so the advantages outweigh the desire to have the data physically sitting on your desk. You might as well have professionals keeping your data safe for you.

There are plenty of options for cloud storage, both business and personal. Dropbox, Box.net, Skydrive, and Google Drive are just a few of the big ones. Give the cloud a try and see if you don't find storing your data remotely isn't so bad after all.

Topics: Mobility, Cloud

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  • E-mail is different

    I do concur with you James; e-mail has been amongst the first "cloud applications" in use by most people. There are a few problems with this line of logic, though:

    1.) Most e-mail that supports POP/SMTP would involve local storage of that data. Sure, the transmission would still involve using the internet, and stuff is stored on the e-mail server until the download happens, but in the case of POP mail, keeping that data on the internet was always an option.

    2.) It was JUST e-mail. Ask anyone using browser-based e-mail back in 2003 whether they were okay with, theoretically, having all their data stored on a remote server and then synced to everything they owned. That would have divided lines then, and divided lines now. Ask those same people how many would want to pay monthly/annually for Office and Quickbooks, and virtually none of those hands would still be up.

    3.) If someone was actively determined to have their e-mail not based in a cloud, it has always been possible - with enough time and dedication, one could run their own mail server, just as today, with enough dedication, one could do what I do - have a home NAS that can access data via SFTP or include an Ajaxplorer frontend and have the browser based goodness. Why not write an article about all the wonderful alternatives to the cloud?

    4.) On the heels of 3, why not give some guidance as to some options people have to cloud services if it's not desired? Hard disk failure? RAID-1 is supported by most motherboards now, and a second hard drive usually costs less than $100. For the power surge situation, what about Bittorrent sync, the (admittedly alpha staged) Ajaxplorer client, or OwnCloud?

    5.) Amongst the issues that people like myself have with "The Cloud" is the seeming lack of options at this point. I spent WEEKS looking for a self-hosted, browser-based accounting software that would run on a LAMP stack. I saw dozens of companies lining up to get me to subscribe to their service, and some that still offered locally installed software options. If something like Xero can run on their servers, it could run just happily on my IBM x3550 sitting in a colo...but it's this mass push of "You can't be trusted with your own data!" that's rather insulting. Yes, plenty of people don't back up their data the way they're supposed to...but is the solution really to require the use of someone else's hard drives?

    6.) It's not about what's acceptable today. It's about what's acceptable tomorrow. The cloud turns to rain. The latest Tumblr debacle is but a single example of what happens when you trust the cloud. I llistened to people like yourself the first time "cloud storage" was a thing. Remember Driveway.com? Xdrive? iDrive? MP3.com? There were dozens of services happily giving a few MBytes of online storage away for free, with premium accounts of course providing more storage and no ad banners. iDrive seemed to have weathered it well enough as they're still storing stuff online, but the wildly different logo and the fact that my old login information doesn't work makes me wonder whether it's just the name and domain that are the same. Xdrive got bought by AOL and retired in 2009. I used their sync client to back up my OneNote notebooks in college. Any idea where that data went? Driveway.com is a parked domain now, any idea where that data went? Beyond that, what is deemed acceptable data today may not be, tomorrow. I can't store nude pictures of anyone on Skydrive, even if it is consensual, and of a legal adult. While I certainly am not planning on doing so, the principle of the fact that there is image analysis software running on things that are uploaded to the service means that someone is watching, whereas my own personal storage is not limited in that manner.

    The cloud has its uses - I use the Office Web Apps to share documents from time to time where needed for collaboration, and I do like Skydrive's photo sharing. Trusting my data to the overlords in Cupertino/Redmond/Googleplex/Amazon, at the expense of keeping my data my own responsibility, is another situation entirely.

    • Good post

      just as Melissa answered I am dazzled that a mother can get paid $5668 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this page... c­a­n9­9.ℂ­ℴ­M
  • No, no, no,no,no....not the issue.

    Is the cloud going to give me 2 TB of storage I can use for the rest of my life for $89.95??

    That is the kind of issue the cloud really is all about.

    The final endpoint for the cloud is to eventually rent us everything "computing" for a monthly fee instead of letting us just buy it just once in a blue moon.

    Make no mistake, what ever lack of control you don't like about having your apps in the cloud now will eventually be compounded by 10. If you like the old Hotmail better than the new Outlook, well get used to living your computing life for the rest of your life on every single computing issue just like that because when you rent, you always pay and you take what they give.

    There will be no more putting off certain software purchases until next year or the year after because you will pay every month like it or not. You will always have the latest software, because even if you really cant afford it this month you will pay for it because if you don't its not like you can easily struggle along for another year or two with what you have because if you stop paying...you stop having.

    Don't talk to us like we don't understand we have been using the cloud already. Its not that kind of cloud that will be the problem so much. The kind of cloud that will be the problem that big IT would like to see fully in place before the NEXT ten years is out, and that's the cloud where you pay as you go for everything and own very little to nothing yourself.

    That's the cloud big IT wants, this little cloud we have been living with, a large part of it relatively free is not the cloud that the long term will make the fearful issue of it all.

    Lets talk about that cloud. The one we have been living with for years now has been nothing more than the worm on the hook. The big IT fishermen are not just going to live with the worm on the hook forever, they want us on the hook for it all.
    • Bingo

    • What he said

      100% correct.

      I hate the basic concept of the cloud.
    • Rental Slavery

      The failure-riddled software industry is dictating terms on industry norms.

      Failure-riddled? Well yes; what other product has to be recalled for defect repair so often, we have to automate the process just to keep up? With safety risks if we don't?

      First it was "software is a product, you must pay for it like anything else you buy and keep".

      Then it was "no no no, software is a 'service'; pay us for the right to use the parts of it we let you use, while we unilaterally change it whenever we like".

      Now it's rental slavery; once in their walled garden, we pay all the time, whether we see value in new versions or "upgrades", or not. The pressure's off; no need to create real value with upgrades to entice sales, we're paying all the time, anyway.

      By this time, most of the advantages of having your own system (remember, the "P" in "PC") have been eroded. Since they already control what's on my box and I already have to pay all the time, why not let them take my box away and give me a dumb terminal, as if the PC had never happened? And guess what; my new sleek little consumption-only device won't be cheaper, even if it is worth less in functional terms.

      I've looked to cost comparisons between storage and bandwidth as an indicator to when this switchover may be sellable to consumers; ADSL vs. hard drive per Gig, 3G vs. USB flash per Meg. But that's the point; once you've stored your file, you access it for free - whereas "the cloud" places a toll booth between you and "your" stuff.

      And those automated product recall safety fixes? Yep, you pay to transport those, too. No wonder software vendors never emerge out of beta, these days.
  • The entire internet is the cloud. Geez.

    Talk about a flash of the blindingly obvious. Shame on me for succumbing to click bait. But this whole cloud thing is ridiculous on its face. Back in the good old days of network diagrams, a cloud just meant some unspecified transmission medium that happened automagically. Then a bunch of marketdroids who wouldn't know a node from a Noid got hold of it and vampired out all the meaning. Just like "beg the question."
    • There is a difference

      The Internet is a medium for information transfer. Sure, it has waystations that potentially can trap data, but most of them are so busy moving data that they don't want it to stop. The rest of the Internet is (mostly) fiberoptic cables, which, to the best of my knowledge, have no data-mining capability.

      As with phones, the transmission lines are not the exposed link; the switching stations (servers) are. My data is fairly safe until it reaches a server. At that point, there is potential for loss, hijacking, or mining.
      Iman Oldgeek
  • Invocation

    "Thinking about the cloud invokes an image of a giant nameless place far away where data is stored until needed."

    Not for me, it brings to mind:

    - arrogant
    - greedy
    - American
    - IT
    - global
    - corporations
    - don't pay tax in my country
    - and want 30% of my development efforts ...
    - ... and lifetime software subscriptions
    - 'your files have been replaced by symbolic links - but you can have them if you ask nicely'
    - and here are some ads in your OS/browser to entertain you WHICH WE WILL TRACK
    - what do you mean 'ethics, surveillance, privacy, value, choice'?


    Time to pull back from these reprobates ... before they get the cloud on theirs and Wall Street's terms.
  • Why give up my rights to my data

    Why give up my rights to my data which is what I'm doing when I use a cloud service. I no longer "own" my data. Read the T & C's. They typically reserve all rights to do whatever they want with my data (although often subject to them anonymising it if they pass it on to a third party).
  • Power & Internet can

    quit at an instant's notice. IF your software and data are on your machine, many things can still be done, mail can be read, answered, and sent when connections are up. Nobody I know is always up to date on every thing, now they can get a lot closer, but only if their stuff is there on their own hard drive! Do you get caught up, you can play some of the games that are hiding on many computers or in a drawer somewhere. Or create a few......
    Old Dog V
    • Re: many things can still be done

      Not if the power is out.
  • I have nothing against "the cloud."

    "Leery about the cloud? Chances are you've been using it for years"

    I have nothing against "the cloud."

    I have something against "cloud only."

    Dropbox is a good example of "the cloud" done right - you can access your documents anywhere, anytime, even offline. No need to remain online for it to function, and it will automatically sync when you reconnect. This is the way I want "the cloud" to work. Not stuck in some browser becoming useless when you lose your internet connection.

    "Thinking about the cloud invokes an image of a giant nameless place far away where data is stored until needed."

    You can fully blame your fellow ZDNet bloggers for spreading this rather faulty definition everywhere.

    Well, can't really say it's "faulty" because it's not really well-defined in the first place. Thus, most talk about it is really meaningless.

    But yes - I fully blame the tech media for embracing this marketing term as if it were a technical term. I do not consider it to be a technical term.

    My use of Dropbox may either be "embracing the cloud" or "not using the cloud" depending on who you ask. You're never really gonna get a good definition of it.
  • Fast asleep????

    Hello? Someone not hear the alarm clock? Yes, we've been using eMail in a cloud-like way all the time. And we are just hearing that this means presenting others with our personal communication on a silver plate. And we should not be wary about making that the case for our intellectual property and other valuables?
  • Cloud and "Accounts" are Pushed even when Unnecessary

    The other day I downloaded a smartphone app which contained a GPS based pedometer, in order to track walking routes. The FIRST thing it does is ask you to set up an "account" so the data can be shared with your other devices AND with other walkers in a semi competitive "support group" environment (and of course, to spam the display with ads for fitness related equipment). Since I wanted ONLY to track my walking IN MY PHONE, I did not set up an "account" and will delete this app.

    Email does have to be transferred over the internet, but it does not have to REMAIN on a provider's server. Use a POP client and sort the mail you want to keep from your Inbox and Sent folder into topic-based or vendor-based folders. Once I do that, I keep control over the data, EVEN if I change providers and email addresses.

    The best way to be sure data will not be LOST is to back it up BOTH locally and in a "cloud" service that is encrypted by YOUR local machine. The best way to keep someone ELSE from getting it is to keep it on your local machine, EXCEPT for the data you need to share with someone else (and if in-person is feasible, use a flash drive and "sneaker net").
    • Unfortunately, POP3...

      Shows that you have downloaded and deleted it from the server, but have you really? Or is it like deleting a file in Windows--the bits and bytes are still hanging around to be read?
      Iman Oldgeek
  • A modern throwback on the mainframe

    is now called the cloud. People in and out of government like to have control over others. When someone has control over your data, they have control over you to a lesser or greater extent. Today terminals of old have been replaced with powerful computing devices and the mainframe is now called a server hidden away in some remote data center. When the mainframe stopped working or the connections to it failed, the dumb terminals were useless. Today those sophisticated computing devices are equally useless, if the data they need to work with is unavailable.

    The lack of backups is just a lame excuse the IT lords try to convince people with, to entrust their data to these remote services. Backup software such as Apple's Time Machine makes it so that users hardly have to think about that problem anymore. If the government wants to have access to the data stored on your local hard drive, they still have to have a court order and then come with a SWAT team to physically yank that hard drive out of your computer or take the entire computer. That is a lot harder than writing an NSL to some distant data storage service provider, who is not even allowed to tell you that your data has just been snarfed by the government. Anyone who wants to keep their data in the cloud in view of the recent revelations about government spying, needs to have their head examined.
  • Funny

    Hysterical that people would be scared of "The Cloud(tm)", yet adamantly, firmly, unflinchingly believe that there's some place up in the clouds where they'll all wind up after their death and reconnect with those loved ones gone before them in the "Eternity Facebook(tm)"
  • Fine if you'd like to pay to give up control over your data

    Talk about the "cloud" seems just another way a catchy term can be introduced to sell a new service = way of making money. Corporations are certainly entitled to their profits, and we need profits to assure us of continued development of software we use. But PAY somebody to make my data (forget software) less reliable, potentially less available, and less secure?
    * Use of cloud services for routine data storage and software assumes a fast and reliable internet connection. For those of us in rural areas, forget it. I just got upgraded from 1.5 MBS to 10 MBS, and it seems likely that's the maximum I'll ever get for an indefinite (and long) period.
    * Periodic internet outages. A lightning storm will do it. System maintenance, never announced, will do it (I've learned to expect periodic outages late at night on the weekend). If my data and software are not local, that ends work for the night.
    * Big data. Have a media library? EyeTV generates files at the rate of 5 GB/hour of HD recording. Scanning old negatives into TIFFs for archiving comes in at 100 MB per photo, with thousands of photos. Try transferring that back and forth on a limited collection. I currently need 5 TB of backup drives (I back up everything from several computers). And that will eventually expand. How much will that space take up on someone's server somewhere else?
    * Hacking. Maybe I'm paranoid, but given the number of intrusions into supposedly secure systems, why trade security at home for that? As with hard drive failure, I think the safest assumption is "when, not if" for cloud storage. And when a less benevolent government decides I'm a citizen worth finding out more about . . . My password software offers the option of cloud storage of passwords and related personal data. My immediate reaction: you've got to be kidding!

    So cloud storage offers clear advantages for some applications (e.g., I make limited use of Dropbox for file transfers), but for a serious user with lots of data, less than perfect (and not that fast) internet access, and the paranoid desire to keep private information private . . . they need to look elsewhere for a client.
  • POP3 email just "passes through" the cloud

    Not everyone uses web mail or IMAP. Real (POP3) email just "passes through" the cloud, so yes; it comes to rest (and exists only) on the local system.

    But yes, we've been using the cloud for years, and some have already been bitten by it. Rather than assume everyone's sold on web mail, a better example would be blogs, Facebook, wikis and comments across articles such as this one.

    Backing up that content, or moving it from one walled garden to another, can be tricky = and yes, if your "service" provider loses interest, your stuff is gone.

    I have blogs on Blogger and WordPress, and had one on Live Spaces. Of the three hosts, Live Spaces was the only one who would completely disrupt functionality with server-side changes to how "my " material was presented. Ads became more intrusive, including ads for keylogging software shown on articles dedicated to IT safety, and there was a total failure to keep out comment spam complete with malware links.

    When WordPress took over Live Spaces, an email was sent out telling us to "move it or lose it". If you missed that email, as I did, then your material was simply discarded - gone for ever.

    So no, I'm not about to subject my "real" data, photos, etc. to the same risk.