(+) Update: My Move to the Cloud

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

A few months ago I published an article entitled, “I am Moving to the Cloud.” Since that time, I have continued my move to a cloud-based personal service for genealogy and other applications, and now I am almost completely cloud-based.

In the original article, I described several cloud-based services, explained actions I had already taken, and described what I planned to do. Since I published that article, I have followed most of the items in my plan. However, a couple of vendors have changed their services slightly, and some new services have been introduced. One of the new services was so appealing that it caused me to change my original plans. I also experimented a bit as I moved through my planned changes. The result was even more changes in my plans as I gained experience.

The original article is no longer accurate because of these changes. I decided to re-write that original article and to include the changes in the new version that I am publishing today. This is the extensively revised article.

I’ve decided to move. Well, not my personal possessions, my clothes, my tools, or even my computers. I am moving my data and my applications. 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 the shared computers may be across town while others may be located on 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 in 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) on remote computers. In other words, Google Docs is “in the cloud.” Those programs are stored in the remote computers and can be used on your Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Android, or Apple iOS (iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch) computer whenever you need the application. Other cloud applications include Google Mail (called Gmail), Hotmail, Outlook.com, 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 on Zoho at http://www.zoho.com. This multi-purpose cloud-based service 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, a password manager, 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.

Many of the Zoho services aimed at individuals are available free of charge. The Zoho services designed for business purposes usually require payment of fees although those fees are usually much lower than purchasing equivalent software, the hardware required to run it, the personnel needed to keep the programs 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 in the cloud, sometimes better although sometimes not, with very little overhead. Any company that wants Salesforce.com’s CRM services only needs 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. Salesforce.com then provides the servers, the data center, and the required personnel to keep everything operational. 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 computers. 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 by paid employees 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 each 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 Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing as well as in an article in the PC Magazine web site at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372163,00.asp.

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.

Planning and implementing an individual’s cloud-based computing operation

1. Security

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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