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Understanding Cloud Computing

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Cloud computing represents a major change in how we store digital information and run computer applications. Instead of running programs and storing data on an individual desktop computer, everything is hosted in the "cloud" — an assemblage of computers and servers accessed via the Internet. In this article, Cloud Computing author Michael Miller describes what cloud computing is (and what it isn't), and how it will impact the way you use computers in the future.

Computing as you know it is changing. Your applications and documents are in the process of moving from the desktop into what experts call the cloud—thousands of computers and servers, all linked together and accessible via the Internet. With cloud computing, everything you used to do on your desktop computer is now done over the web; you can access all your programs and documents from any computer that's connected to the Internet.

How does cloud computing work—and how will it affect the way you work? Read on to learn more.

Cloud Computing: What It Is—And What It Isn't

You know how traditional desktop computing works. The software programs you use are stored on each computer you own. The documents you create are stored on the computer on which they were created. And, although documents can be accessed from other computers on a network, they can't be accessed by computers outside the network.

With cloud computing, the software programs you use aren't run from your personal computer, but are rather stored on servers housed elsewhere and accessed via the Internet. If your individual computer crashes, the software is still available for others to use.

The same goes for the documents you create; they're stored on a collection of servers accessed via the Internet. Anyone with permission can not only access the documents, but can also edit and collaborate on those documents in real time—which is a real plus over the traditional desktop computing model.

To some, cloud computing might sound a little like network computing—but it isn't. With network computing, applications/documents are hosted on a single company's server and accessed over the company's network. Cloud computing is a lot bigger than that. It encompasses multiple companies, multiple servers, and multiple networks. Plus, unlike network computing, cloud services and storage are accessible from anywhere in the world over an Internet connection; with network computing, access is over the company's network only.

The key difference between network computing and cloud computing is the "cloud" itself. That cloud is a large group of interconnected computers that typically extends beyond a single company or enterprise. The applications and data served by the cloud are available to a broad group of users using different operating system platforms; access is via the Internet. Any authorized user can access these docs and apps from any computer over any Internet connection, using the common web browser. It isn't apparent (and, in most cases doesn't matter) whether cloud services are based on HTTP, HTML, XML, JavaScript, or other specific technologies; to the user, the technology and infrastructure behind the cloud is invisible.

In short, cloud computing enables a shift from the computer to the user, from applications to tasks, and from isolated data to data that can be accessed from anywhere and shared with anyone. The user no longer has to take on the task of data management; he doesn't even have to remember where the data is. All that matters is that the data is in the cloud, and thus immediately available to that user and to other authorized users.

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