The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
I've decided to move. Well, not my personal possessions, my clothes, my tools, or even my computers. I am moving my data. I am moving to the cloud.
First, here is a quick definition of a cloud as the word is used in computer technology.
Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, similar to the electricity grid. In other words, most computing functions and data storage are provided by remote computers connected via the Internet. The computing power is shared amongst many users, and each user obtains as much or as little computing power and storage space as he or she needs. Expenses are also shared and the result is more computing capability per dollar spent for everyone.
Some of those computers may be across town while others may be located at the far side of the world. The user typically doesn't know or care where the computers are located; all he or she knows is that a connection is made across the Internet and then the remote computer is used in much the same manner as a local computer.
Cloud computing is literally "computing on demand." That is, as much or as little computing power as necessary is available whenever the user wishes to use it. In some cases, all that is needed is some disk storage space to store information. The computing might be performed by a local computer, but information is stored "in the cloud."
In other cases, both computing power and programs might reside on the cloud, along with data storage. A simple example might be Google Docs, which provides word processing, spreadsheet, and even a presentation program (somewhat like Powerpoint) in the cloud. Those programs are stored in the cloud and can be used on your Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer whenever you need the application. Other cloud applications include Google Mail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail in which not only are the email messages stored in the cloud but so are the programs used to read and write those messages. You just open a web browser and log onto one of those services. All software is included, replacing the email programs we used to use in past years, such as Microsoft Mail, Outlook, Eudora, Thunderbird, Apple Mail, and other email programs that needed to be installed in the local computer.
A more robust cloud computing service may be found at Zoho Docs. Zoho at http://www.zoho.com provides word processing, a spreadsheet program, and even a presentation program, all similar to Google Docs, but generally with more features. In addition, Zoho Docs also provides email services, online chat services, a money management program, remote meetings and seminars (somewhat similar to WebEx), project management software, wiki services, an online calendar, a notebook, and more. Zoho also has many business services, including CRM (customer relationship management), human resources programs, invoicing systems, a customer service system, and more. All the programs are stored in the cloud, not installed on your computer.
Most of the Zoho services aimed at individuals are available free of charge. The Zoho services provided for business purposes usually require payment of fees although those fees are usually much less than purchasing equivalent software, the hardware required to run it, the personnel needed to keep it running, and a data center to house everything.
Another well-known example of cloud-based services may be found at Salesforce.com. In the past, most companies spent thousands of dollars for Oracle, SAP, SalesLogix, SageCRM, or similar products. Then the same companies needed to spend tens of thousands of dollars for the required servers and other hardware, all installed in an expensive data center with air conditioning and filtered electricity. Finally, the biggest expense of all was usually the salaries of the people that needed to be hired to maintain the hardware and software. Labor costs often are the biggest expense in major database projects.
In contrast, Salesforce.com provides similar services, sometimes better although sometimes not, with very little overhead. Any company that wants Salesforce.com's CRM services does need to provide inexpensive computers for each employee (which would also be needed with most any other solution) along with high speed connections to the Internet. Then the company pays a fee each month to Salesforce.com. The service isn't cheap but usually is much less expensive than buying software, servers, and data centers, and hiring additional employees.
In addition, Salesforce.com, Google, Zoho, and Amazon (which I haven't mentioned previously but is a major provider of cloud computing services) perform all the day-to-day data maintenance procedures. They repair the hardware when it breaks, install software upgrades as needed, make the backups, and generally take care of the place. The data center is managed by professionals who serve hundreds or thousands of customers. The cost per customer is much less than having similar functions performed in a customer's own data center. Businesses refer to this as “economy of scale.” In a large data center shared by many companies, the expenses paid by each company will be significantly less than trying to perform the same functions locally.
Businesses are learning that the use of cloud-based services instead of "rolling your own" can save thousands of dollars and simultaneously reduce headaches while also providing increased uptime.
You can learn more about cloud computing in my earlier articles, Computing in the Clouds at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/03/computing-in-the-clouds.html and Why Cloud Computing Makes Sense for Genealogy at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2009/07/why-cloud-computing-makes-sense-for-genealogy.html.
My question is: can individuals also take advantage of these services? Can the individual computer user save money and reduce headaches like large corporations do? I decided to find out.
The first concern when talking about placing personal information on computers controlled by someone else is security. Will my data be safe? Can I keep it under my control and keep others out? Will it be backed up properly?
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