Today we will take a few glimpses of how “cloud” computing is changing the way you use your computer and other wireless devices. Included are several examples of how you can take advantage of cloud computing technology.
What is cloud computing, and just what is the cloud? In simple terms, cloud computing is Internet-assisted computing. This means that much of what once took place within your own physical computer instead takes place external to it via a connection to the Internet. Data and file storage, documents, photos and music all reside with Web-based services and can be accessed when needed through the Web. In many ways, it is as if your computer is operating through an unlimited, interconnected, external hard drive. With the cloud, software and programs do not have to be loaded on your local computer. Instead, they reside externally and are supplied to you as services.
The cloud is a metaphor representing the vast pool of service and data that you reach out to and access as needed. All of it is meant to be rather transparent in a manner similar to how we simply plug in and use electricity from the electrical grid.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about an Internet-based file storage service called Dropbox. It allows you to store and share files between computers all while keeping each computer synchronized with the latest revision of each document. Although I didn’t use the term at the time, this was an example of cloud computing.
You may already be using cloud computing without realizing it. Web-based email systems like Hotmail and Gmail are good examples of cloud computing. The email software and your messages themselves are stored “in the cloud” external to your computer or smartphone, but they can be accessed and manipulated through any Internet connection.
Google Docs is another interesting cloud-based example of software as a service. Google Docs is an office suite package that allows you to create, store and share documents, spreadsheets and presentations online and to collaborate and edit with others in real time. The documents can be accessed from any computer or smartphone and the latest revision is always kept in sync with everyone in the workgroup. See docs.google.com/ for more details.
Google has a companion cloud application called Google Cloud Print. I learned more about it recently when I purchased a Kodak inkjet printer. This printer connects to my network and to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Since the printer is Web-enabled, Cloud Print allows me to print to this printer from anywhere using my laptop, smartphone or tablet. I can share the printer with anyone I choose and have them send documents directly to the printer via the Web as simply as if it were another printer on my office network. See google.com/cloudprint/learn/ for more details.
Another cloud-related but more direct method to print to this Kodak printer is via email. Setup of the printer includes assigning it its own email address. Then from any email application, you can mail and print both the body and the attachments of an email directly to the printer. Learn more at kodakeprint.com. Many other printer brands are now including these cloud-enabled features, so watch for them when shopping for your next printer.
Apple’s recent introduction of the iPhone 4S has brought a renewed buzz to cloud computing. Through Apple’s new iCloud online storage, you can now sync all your data and photos, music and more between all your Apple devices. All of your information can be shared, backed up, and synchronized through one central Apple storage server in the cloud.
Amazon Cloud Drive storage and the Amazon Cloud Player have been ahead of Apple in this respect. I recently signed up with Amazon to buy some music, and the default setting for storage of the music I purchased was on their cloud drive. My entire music collection can be stored and streamed from the cloud. I am able to access it from any computer or Internet connected device. This means I can listen to my music on my smartphone, my home computer, my work computer and even a friend’s computer. All this takes place without ever having to locally save an MP3 file or transfer it from one device to another.
For business applications, Amazon Cloud Drive storage can also be used for files other than music. See amazon.com/clouddrive/learnmore for details. For more cloud player info, Google the term “Amazon Cloud Player” or go to amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2658409011.
I still have my reservations about the security of cloud computing and whether it is something bulletproof enough to use for your sensitive legal documents. This concern is from the viewpoints of both security as well as reliability. Amazon makes no promises that it will never lose your music collection (or your litigation files!). I expect hackers will take a much greater interest in attacking the cloud now that Apple has entered the scene with its iCloud service and the millions of users it will attract. Cloud computing is a technology that is here to stay, but proceed with caution.•
Stephen Bour (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.