Understanding Cloud Services
Any web-based application or service offered via cloud computing is called a cloud service. Cloud services can include anything from calendar and contact applications to word processing and presentations. Almost all large computing companies today, including both Google and Microsoft, are developing various types of cloud services.
With a cloud service, the application itself is hosted in the cloud. An individual user runs the application over the Internet, typically within a web browser. The browser accesses the cloud service and an instance of the application is opened within the browser window. Once launched, the web-based application operates and behaves like a standard desktop application. The only difference is that the application and the working documents remain on the host's cloud servers.
What types of applications are available via cloud computing? Perhaps the best and most popular examples of cloud computing applications today are the Google family of applications—Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail, and the like. All of these applications are hosted on Google's servers, are accessible to any user with an Internet connection, and can be used for group collaboration from anywhere in the world. None of these apps require software to be downloaded and installed on a user's computer.
Cloud services offer many advantages to users. If the user's PC crashes, it doesn't affect either the host application or the open document; both remain unaffected in the cloud. In addition, an individual user can access his applications and documents from any location on any PC or portable device, via an Internet connection. He doesn't have to a copy of every app and file with him when he moves from office to home to remote location. Finally, because documents are hosted in the cloud, multiple users can collaborate on the same document in real time, using any available Internet connection. Documents are no longer machine-centric; instead, they're always available to any authorized user.
On the downside, web-based applications are typically less robust than their traditional software counterparts. For example, Google Docs offers far fewer formatting features than does Microsoft Word, which can be inhibiting to more sophisticated users. In addition, cloud services can only be accessed when a user has a live Internet connection; they're not suited for instances where no Internet connection is available.