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This is a guide to the Cloud or, more specifically Cloud computing and Cloud storage.

In reference to computers and the Internet, the cloud is not a physical thing, but neither is it some ephemeral mystery, as its name suggests. The cloud is actually a network of servers, each with a different function. Reached by the Internet, some servers use computing power to run applications or deliver services, while others store data.

Clouds can be limited to a single organization or company, made available to several organizations, or a combination of both.

Some computer applications are no longer available in a boxed set, or even for downloading onto the user's computer, but are accessed through the Internet. For example, Adobe's products are offered solely by subscription. Users of Adobe products do not receive a boxed set, nor can they download the software to their website. Rather, users must pay a monthly subscription fee. If they stop paying, they risk losing access to the software as well as the ability to open work that has been saved in Adobe's proprietary file formats.

Software manufacturers save distribution costs by offering their products through cloud computing, and many companies and organizations enjoy always having access to the most recent version, but the practice has not been without criticism, particularly from individual users, who prefer owning rather than subscribing to the software. Cloud computing may also require hardware upgrades on the part of end users, without the option to continue running a previous version, which can lead to unanticipated expenses.

However, cloud computing can reduce costs for software developers, and make software products available to those who may not be able to afford the large cost of a purchase, but who could afford a monthly subscription price. Cloud computing can also allow users to access programs using a browser, regardless of which device they are using, given that the infrastructure does not reside on the user's device. Maintenance costs and other issues involving installation and troubleshooting are reduced because the software is not installed on each user's computer. For this same reason, users are able to access the program from any device.

Cloud computing is a benefit to several companies, lowering costs and allowing them to focus on their business rather than matters of computer infrastructure and information technology. The disadvantages are more sharply felt by smaller companies and individuals, particularly regarding issues of security and downtime. Technical outages occur sometimes when cloud service providers are overwhelmed, and cloud computing applications cannot be accessed without a reliable Internet connection.

Cloud storage is similar, in that it is a method of computer data storage in which the data is stored on multiple servers that are often in multiple locations, owned and managed by a hosting company.

Although it wasn't always called that, cloud storage has been around longer than cloud computing. Compuserve offered its users an amount of disk space to store any files that they wanted to upload as early as 1983 and, in 1994, AT&T announced its PersonaLink Services, which was the first to be web-based. In their advertising for their PersonaLink Services, the company said, "You can think of our electronic meeting place as the cloud." Amazon Web Services introduced a cloud storage service (AWS S3) in 2006, which is used by Dropbox, Pinterest, and SmugMug.

Cloud storage has the obvious advantage to the user in that companies and individuals only pay for the storage they actually use. They no longer have to invest in multiple storage drives or other storage devices or risk the loss of data due to hard drive crashes. Because data is stored off-site, it is safe from fires or natural disasters occurring at the place of business or individual's home.

On the other hand, outsourcing data storage can increase its vulnerability to attack. Data security may also be an issue, as the number of people with potential access to the data is increased dramatically. There is also the fact that companies are not permanent, and the products they survive is subject to change. Cloud storage companies may go bankrupt, change the focus of their operations, or be purchased by another company that does not honor previous agreements. Individual users of various software products and services are not always even aware that their data is stored in a cloud. Thus, a smartphone user may lose access to photos and other data when he changes cellular phone providers, unaware that his photos were uploaded to a cloud controlled by the previous provider. Software programs sometimes default to storing files in the cloud, and users are not always aware of this.

Topics related to cloud computing and cloud storage are the focus of this category.



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