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The Internet age is reaching the dawn of a new era where everything can be accessed outside of your computer’s physical limitations. Today’s Internet is full of services ready to provide content instantly.
Delving into how all these services are hosted, you’ll find there is always some mention of the “cloud.” In fact, looking at a lot of services these days, you will find that the “cloud” plays a major part in bringing content to a wide variety of people. The most important characteristic from which end users have benefited is that all content is synced together across multiple platforms – whether it is your PC, cell phone, or tablet.
However exciting all this may be, this “cloud” isn’t exactly anything new; it is more of a buzzword to re-ignite interest in existing technology.
Another popular, yet outdated, buzzword used in the computer realm is “virtualization.” The term originally referred to using a virtual machine, where host software would create a simulated computer experience that could be accessed remotely, utilizing resources from another system.
It was first used by IBM to take advantage of the large mainframe systems they built back in the 1960s. By splitting the resources into individual logical virtual machines, they could run multiple applications at the same time and maximize efficiency. This efficient use of resources eventually led to the “client/server” format that was prevalent in many applications in the 1990s, where a centralized system contained important data in a very organized and secured environment. It became common practice for businesses to integrate this technology into their infrastructures.
A more modern example of virtualization would be the Remote Access feature in Windows XP, where someone could take control of your PC from another location in order to help troubleshoot your PC. However, there was a significant performance loss on the remote access side, while security flaws opened up potential hostile PC takeovers from viruses and other malware.
Virtualization still has a place in the computer world, but cloud computing is taking all the key benefits of virtualization and providing them in an Internet-based delivery model that is much more robust and facilitates far more users.
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A recent market study shows that about 22% of U.S. consumers are familiar with the term “cloud computing,” yet 76% of these same people were using services that actively promote themselves as part of the cloud.
What are some of the applications these people use? Web-based email services such as Hotmail, Yahoo!, or Gmail for starters. Web-based email has been around for a very long time and was one of the first forms of cloud computing readily available – all the content is stored off your computer and is accessible anywhere.
Cloud computing applications are hosted on servers that anyone can access remotely. These servers are dedicated for the specific application and are maintained and upgraded without any configuration on the client’s side. The client accesses a basic interface on the front end, while the cloud (or server) runs all the software on the back end. The server can administer permissions or rule sets (protocols) based on the client. This plays a major part in subscription-based services and how the different accounts are handled.
Computers and smart phones have become a necessity to businesses, and now that data can be shared and synced up for better organization. Employees no longer need to install individual components – they can login to a server and access all their email, applications, and data from any location. Google Docs is also a growing popular form of cloud computing, since you do not need to install any software onto your computer, and the data syncs with your Android phone seamlessly.
Even your personal entertainment options benefit from this new integration. You can load up and stream your favorite movies and TV shows from Hulu or Netflix without having to adhere to any programming schedule but, unlike a DVR, you can watch it from any mobile device as well. New music services like Google Music, Spotify, and Turntable.fm are allowing users a new way to access libraries and create their own custom radio channels to share through social media. The possibilities are endless; additional services are constantly cropping up to take advantage of all the hype around the “cloud.”
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One of the biggest criticisms of some paid cloud computing services is that data are not actually in your possession, but rather are rented and accessed based on your subscriber status to the host servers. Not all services are free, and the pricing models are necessary in order to facilitate the costs associated with offsite hosting, which in turn syncs the data much more effectively. Considering the effect piracy has had on the entertainment business, cloud computing seems like a surefire way to keep content accessible without the DRM headaches that plagued past attempts of trying to avoid piracy.
Depending on your stance on security issues, you may not like that your content is potentially monitored and tracked. Even more importantly, potential system abuse or exploits also leaves our content to be blocked – or worse, stolen – making it very inconvenient for customers to access data for which they legitimately have paid. Also, Internet services need to be fast and stable enough to supply this content to users – something many parts of the globe (including rural parts of the U.S.) still have yet to obtain.
The biggest drawback could be the price these services charge. Large corporations tend to benefit from this structure because they can pay as needed to accommodate their infrastructure. End-users may feel a bit jilted because they pay standard subscription rates that could potentially exceed their usage model, but with a wide variety of payment options and services popping up, this could become less of an issue in the long run.
Make no qualms about it: Cloud computing is the shiny new wrapping to web-based services that have been available for quite some time.
The real reason businesses are hiding behind the buzzwords is because while the technology behind it is fascinating and provides us with a new way to experience all our content, it has also been used as a way for content creators to better manage their intellectual property.
However, don’t let that keep you from taking advantage of the actual services that are being marketed. Being able to experience new content on the fly is the future of technology and will usher in new ways to have a more personalized experience.