(+) Why Cloud Computing Makes Sense for Genealogy

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

Note: This is an update to an article I published several years ago. The technology of cloud computing has grown rapidly and changed significantly since the article was first published. I decided to update the article to make it more relevant to today’s cloud computing environment.

One of the current buzzwords in the online world is “cloud computing.” You can probably find dozens of definitions of this new technology, but I think the simplest is that cloud computing refers to a computer application running on a distant computer or, more often, in a cluster of computers. Those multiple computers, or servers, often are installed in different data centers around the world, and yet they work in harmony as if they were one very big and very powerful computer.

In fact, if your present computer is showing its age and is slowing down a bit, switching to cloud computing applications is an excellent method of obtaining several more years of productive use from your aging hardware.

Your local desktop or laptop works as a “remote terminal,” with your video screen showing what is happening on the distant computer(s) and your local keyboard and mouse being used as input devices for the same distant computer(s). In short, while the program runs on distant computers, you use it as if the program was running in your local system. As a result, your local computer requires very little processing power and, in most cases, a minimal amount of disk storage space. Instead, you are using the power and storage space of the powerful, distant computers.

All the computing power and disk storage is being provided by the powerful computers or banks of powerful servers in distant data centers. Your local desktop or laptop simply provides your “view” of that distant application. You can use the application program running in the distant computer(s) in the same manner that you run applications in your own computer. However, you benefit from the computing power and the storage capabilities of those distant computers.

Note: For simplicity’s sake, I will often state “a distant computer.” However, it might not be a single computer, and it might not be in one single location. Many cloud computing applications operate on banks of distant computers (servers) that may be located in different data centers around the world. At any given moment, your cloud-based application might be using five or more servers; one in California, one in New Jersey, one in Frankfurt, Germany, one in Singapore, and one in Rio de Janeiro. Then again, there could be fewer or more servers being used simultaneously, in fewer or even more locations.

Those details will be invisible to you and will remain unimportant for this discussion.

The word “cloud” refers to the Internet. I am sure you have seen various drawings over the years depicting home computers connecting to distant web servers via the Internet. The Internet is almost always drawn as a cloud to indicate there is a massive collection of routers, switches, and cables connecting the computers. However, all the complexity of the Internet is hidden from the user. Therefore, it is a cloud. The phrase “cloud computing” really means “running programs on multiple distant servers via the Internet.”

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