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Definitions for Dummies: What Is Cloud Computing?

What does it mean for business owners? Where is it headed?

We’ve been absent from the blogosphere for awhile now and thought we’d make our reentry with a simple definition. Cloud computing. What is it? How is it different from, well, normal computing? What does it mean for business owners? Where is it headed?

Generally speaking, “cloud computing” is the use of the Internet to run applications or store data. Until recently, most software programs ran on your personal computer. Cloud computing changes that: programs run on a remote server (or servers), accessed by (but not stored on) your computer. Web-based email? Cloud computing. Google Apps? Cloud computing. Facebook? Cloud computing.

Beyond its technical definitions, cloud computing also implies a host of benefits and perceived dangers. Here are some of the biggies.

Usability - Most cloud-based applications are easier to use than their on-site brethren. This especially goes for business products: compared with the CRMs and accounting solutions of the ‘90s, today’s cloud offerings are a delight to use, balancing function with form. That’s good.

Team based – Storing everything in a central place lends itself to collaboration. The best web apps take full advantage of this: Google Docs, for example, allows for real-time document edits by multiple users, and Dropbox, a document storage application, automatically updates documents whenever users modify them. It’s like having a fully-automated server… without running a fully-automated server.

Mobile - Most cloud computing applications are fully accessible from a host of mobile platforms. Running your business from the office is expected. Running your business from home, the airport, or the golf course? Unreasonably awesome.

Security - Storing information or running a business “in the cloud” sounds dangerous, and there are real concerns. If servers hosting information become inoperable there’s a danger of inaccessibility that’s out of your hands. On the flip side, most trusted web applications boast 99.9% uptime and triply redundant backups (ie, your information is stored three times). That’s better than most on-site setups.

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More Stories By Chris Bliss

Chris Bliss works at VM Associates, an end-user consultancy for businesses looking to move to the cloud from pre-existing legacy systems.

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