(+) A Report on my Move to the Cloud

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

NOTE: This is an update to an article I published about two years ago entitled, I am Moving to the Cloud. The article described my plan to move most of my computing functions to cloud-based services. In short, after two years, I have completed the move for about 95% of the tasks I perform every week and thought I would provide a report of my successes—and also describe a couple of failures. I offer this as “food for thought” for your planning.

If you are happy with your present computer and its capabilities, you probably shouldn’t move everything just yet. However, if you plan to replace your computer someday or if you travel frequently (as I do), this article may provide some ideas for your future plans.

I have moved. Well, not my personal possessions, my clothes, my tools, or even my computers. Instead, I moved my data and most of the tasks I perform weekly. I have moved 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 stored 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, high-powered computers (normally referred to as “servers”) connected via the internet. The computing power is shared amongst many users all over the world, and each user consumes 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. The result is lower expenses for computer hardware and software, along with the added convenience of having your data and applications easily available, almost wherever you are. In many cases, the services in the cloud are available free of charge.

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 a bit of disk storage space to store information. The computing might be performed by a local computer, but information is stored “in the cloud” and is fully backed up at all times as well as being protected from hackers and malware (an abbreviation for “malevolent software,” such as viruses, Trojan horses, and more).

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. The user gets the computing power and programs online and saves the resulting documents online. In other words, Google Docs is both data and software “in the cloud.”

Those programs are stored in the remote computers and can be used on your Windows, Macintosh, Linux, Chromebook, 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. Here again, not only are the email messages stored in the cloud but so are the programs used to read and write those messages. You simply open a web browser and log onto one of those services. All software is included in the online servers, 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.

For some cloud-based applications, all you need is a web browser to run the application and to access the stored information. Other, usually more sophisticated services, will require downloading a small piece of software, typically called an “app,” and saving it your computer. You then double-click on the app in your computer to access your data as well as the more sophisticated parts of the program stored on the servers which may require more processing power than that available in your low-cost 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 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 Zoho 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 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 the programs running, and a data center to house everything.

I use several of Zoho’s services aimed at consumers, but not all of them. I find some other products suit my tastes and uses better than their equivalent Zoho products.

Another well-known example of cloud-based services for corporations 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 just needs to provide inexpensive tablets or other, lower-powered 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 it 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 thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of customers. The cost per customer is much less than having similar functions performed in each 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 have learned that the use of cloud-based services instead of “rolling your own” can save thousands of dollars and simultaneously reduce maintenance and software support headaches while also providing increased uptime. The expenses are so cheap that many cloud-based services offer service to consumers free of charge and instead finance them by displaying advertisements.

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 PCMag web site at http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372163,00.asp.

Cloud computing has been available long enough to address the biggest questions that concern both business users and home users. 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?

For genealogists and millions of other personal computer users, the next questions are: 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. This article is a report about my two-year effort to move as many of my personal computer tasks as possible to the cloud.

I will provide the summation before I provide the details:

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