Tuesday, 23 July 2013

5 Ways You May Already Be Using the Cloud

The cloud has been something of a hot topic for the past year or so in the technology world, with many articles and news pieces heralding how everyone and everything will soon 'make the move' into the cloud. Despite this almost constant tech-news coverage many people are still confused about what 'the cloud' actually means and can feel unsure about how it can be of benefit. Research has even shown that some people think that cloud computing is something to do with the weather! This confusion and reticence about the cloud in many people's personal lives can carry over into the business world and can, in some cases, create barriers to implementing and benefiting from the cloud in a business setting. If you are a regular internet user it is very likely that you are already using the cloud in one way or another. Understanding how you may already be using the cloud can be help to show how 'the cloud' can be translated to the business sector.

1. Collaboration

The internet has revolutionised how we are able to work together and share things with each other. With the click of a button we can share presentations, documents and files with friends, family and colleagues whether they are sitting at a computer next to you or on the other side of the world. If you have used a document sharing service, like Google Docs, or a file hosting service, like SkyDrive to share files and documents with people you know then you have been using the cloud. Services like Google Docs and SkyDrive store your files and documents in the cloud so that they can be accessed from anywhere and so that you can allow other users to view them and make changes.

The cloud can also be particularly useful for accessing your own files when you are on the move or on a different computer. You can also make use of the cloud to access your bookmarks and preferences. Bookmarking websites like Delicious or Google Bookmarks will store your favourite websites in the cloud and let you login to view and edit them from anywhere. Equally some browsers have the functionality to keep your bookmarks, history and even current tabs in the cloud so that they are at your fingertips if you use a different computer.

2. Storage

One of the key uses of the cloud is for storage. There are a large variety of storage options to choose from with new options appearing each month. Sites like Dropbox, Google Drive and MediaFire allow you to store your files and access them from anywhere through the cloud. Many of these options will allow you to store a number of gigabytes of data for free. Utilising cloud storage can be a great way to store your files and to free up space on your own computer. Files, especially music and video, can take up a large amount of space on your hard drive and can be difficult to fit on a USB stick. Storing files in the cloud means you can view and use them whenever you like. Many people also use the cloud and storage services as a backup for their data - keeping a copy of your data in the cloud in case anything goes wrong with your computer.

3. Entertainment

You may not have realised how many forms of entertainment now use the cloud to reach new audiences. A large proportion of internet users will spend time catching up with their favourite TV shows online or watching films on demand. Services that offer TV programmes and films to watch over the internet, like Netflix, iPlayer or 4oD make use of the cloud to bring these services to a wide audience. Music streaming websites like Spotify or internet radio stations like Pandora are also cloud-based services. The cloud means that large amounts of data and files can be stored and can be accessed by a huge user-base - a perfect solution for media-streaming websites and services.

The gaming industry is also making a concerted move towards the cloud. Many online games are already hosted in the cloud and are played through the internet but console and computer games are following closely behind. A number of cloud gaming services have been set up in the past few years and may be closely involved in changing the gaming industry. With cloud gaming you can benefit from more powerful processing speeds and better graphic rendering without needing your computer to have top end specifications. More information about cloud gaming can be found here.

4. Communication

One of the simplest ways of using the cloud that you may not have realised is email. Most web based email programs, such as Hotmail (now Outlook), Gmail and Yahoo Mail, are effectively a form of cloud computing. Your emails and contacts are not stored on your local machine, instead they are stored in the cloud, which enables you to check your email from anywhere. The cloud is a key part of many forms of internet communication. Skype, the popular video-chat and instant messaging service, makes use of the cloud so that its millions of users can all inter-connect with each other. Other unified communications platforms are also utilising the cloud to deliver their services, for example Hosted Lync is Microsoft's unified communication platform hosted in the cloud.

5. Social Networking

Many social networking sites are reaching millions of users and making use of the cloud is a sensible way for them to keep their services available and reliable. So every time you like a post on Facebook or write a tweet, you are using the cloud. In a similar vein photo sharing websites like Instagram and Flickr are also cloud-based services. It is down to the cloud that you are able to share your Instagram snaps with your friends from your mobile and as a result of cloud storage that you can back up and display your pictures through Flickr. If you pin something to a board in Pinterest, the image is part of a website that is hosted in the cloud. You may not think that you are using the cloud in your day to day life but it is highly probable that you are even if you don't realise it.

© Izzy Evans 2013

There are many different ways to use the cloud, these can include using a SaaS solution, a public cloud or a private cloud.

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