The Cloud

Nowadays whenever there is a new piece of tech released its “cloud compatible”, “connected to the cloud” or we are prompted to “store our data on the cloud” or “sync with the cloud”. But what is the cloud? How do you interact with it on a daily basis? And what are the risks involved with using it?

What is The Cloud?

The Cloud essentially refers to any computing that doesn’t take place on your local hardware or network. So if you’re storing or accessing data on your hard drive or sending files to work colleagues via a local server then you are not using the cloud.

You are using the Cloud when you access files or programmes over the internet: for example with cloud gaming you can have the game streamed to you over the internet, this means that you don’t need a super powerful rig to play the game, just a speedy internet connection.

Essentially the cloud is a series of huge server farms, depending on what service you are accessing, that you can communicate with via the internet. If you are putting pictures or music onto iCloud then you are working with Apple’s “Cloud”; if you are watching Netflix then you are accessing Amazon’s “Cloud”. Quite often large companies like Amazon will own a huge server farm which they will then “rent out” to smaller businesses.

How do you interact with The Cloud on a daily basis?

The most common way that average people interact with The Cloud is by using apps that sync: Google Calendar, Microsoft SkyDrive or iCloud for example. These kinds of services sync to the Cloud, meaning that if you have a Mac, iPhone and an iPad you will be able to access your pictures, emails, texts etc. on all three devices simply by connecting to the internet, often automatically.

Google have ramped up their use of the Cloud in the Chromebook: the Chromebook is a relatively inexpensive laptop which has just enough power and memory to run Google Chrome, most of your apps, media and storage are then run via the Cloud.

What are the problems with The Cloud?

Well if you aren’t connected to the internet that you can’t access it, this is obviously the biggest problem.

Therefore with the Chromebook, for example, if you can’t connect to the net then you can’t use most of the functionality. In regard to other cloud services, if you can’t connect then you won’t be able to use them at all. You can usually queue items to be synced once you’ve re-establish a connection, but that’s about it.

Another key problem is that you are essentially letting someone else look after your data. Sometimes that’s a good thing: if you were to lose your phone or blow up your PC then you have a convenient backup for your most important data.

The flip side is that someone else is looking after your precious personal data. Think of it as giving your photos to a friend to look after, this friend then leaves a window open, gets burgled, and the thieves take your previous photos. This is essentially the relationship you have with a cloud storage service: you have to trust that they will keep their windows and doors firmly barred to outsiders.

How can you keep your data secure in The Cloud?

Think very carefully about what you’re putting on the Cloud first of all. To continue the friend metaphor: how much would you trust your friend with? Probably your holiday snaps, pictures of your dog, some music and so on. But what about some more risqué photographs, some bank details or other compromising data. Probably best not.

This is how you need to view Cloud storage services. If you wouldn’t post it to Facebook or scream it out in public then don’t put it on The Cloud. Services like iCloud can and have been comprised and users personal data has been obtained by third parties, so be careful!