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Moving to the Cloud

By Jonathan Imberi 

With all of this talk about cloud computing you would think that the cloud is something new. It is not. In fact, it is as old as the Internet itself. The cloud is just the latest “brand” being applied to utilitarian computing. (Utilitarian computing is the idea of computing and computer applications as an on-demand resource.)

My first foray into cloud computing was back in 2004 with the introduction of Google’s free online e-mail service. Unlike other online e-mail providers at the time, i.e. Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL.com, Google’s service was the first considered reliable and secure enough to replace your local Internet service provider’s e-mail accounts. I was asked to beta test their new service and that meant using that e-mail address as my sole e-mail. To say I was impressed is a gross understatement. They had thought of features I had only dreamed about in Outlook/Outlook Express. I was so struck by the shear power of their e-mail service that I sent out beta invites to my immediate family and friends.

That started my climb to the cloud.

Google did not stop with e-mail. They quickly developed cloud versions of Outlook’s calendar, contacts, & tasks. You can now do everything using Google’s free cloud based services that you can do traditionally in Outlook. Here is the stark contrast between the two services. In Outlook you are tied to one installation of the program on one computer. All of your information is accessible from that computer only. If it crashes, so does your e-mail, calendar, contacts and tasks. With Google’s service you can access and use it from as many computers as you would like anywhere in the world. If the computer you happen to be using crashes, you can simply move to another computer and be back up and running in a matter of minutes. Your data is always safe on remote servers which are not only encrypted to the highest levels but also backed up redundantly.

The level of security provided by cloud computing cannot easily or feasibly be met by using a traditional computer and its standard programs. Storing your data in the cloud is easily 50 times more secure than storing it on your local computer, but we can talk more in depth on that in another article. The programs that run in the cloud to process your data, like e-mails and calendar, are called web apps. Web apps do not need to be installed locally on the computer. They only install an icon that points to the web app, very much like a bookmark or favorite in your browser.

I would say that 95% of what I do on the computer each day is done entirely in the cloud. In fact this article was written entirely using one of Google’s web apps. In December I was selected by Google to beta test their new Chrome OS notebook. Chrome OS is an Operating System developed by Google that is 100% cloud based. I have been using it since December and I love it! I would say that there are two major benefits to using the cloud:
  • Being able to access your files from any computer, anywhere
  • Added assurance that your files are safe – You don't have to worry about backing up files like you would when they were exclusively on your local machine
You may be wondering what else you can do in the cloud. I will mention a few of the many things I do or have done so far in the cloud.
  • In addition to e-mail, calendar, contacts and tasks I have found cloud based free Google web apps for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and drawing programs like Publisher. Not only can you view and create files in these programs, but you can save them in the cloud as well using the free storage Google provides.
  • I store various important files in the cloud using Google’s free storage space.
  • I have designed and maintained several web sites with the whole process being done in the cloud using Google’s web site web app.
  • I sort, edit, print and store all of my photos in the cloud using Google’s photo web app.
  • I sort, view and store all of my videos in the cloud using Google’s video web app.
  • I am able to follow hobbies and interest groups in Google’s forum web app.
  • Since I am a huge fan of Google I follow a lot of their RSS feeds using their RSS Reader web app.
  • I can purchase and store books in an online library using Google’s eBook web app.
  • I use a single phone number that rings me anywhere. I can get transcribed voicemail messages delivered to my e-mail inbox. I can make free calls & send free text messages to the U.S. & Canada and I get low rates on international calls. This is all done through Google's free phone web app.
  • I can pull up detailed maps of any location in the world. I can look up phone numbers and addresses for local businesses and read reviews about them. I can get directions (walking, driving, public transit, or bicycling) to any address. All of this can be done using Google’s mapping web app.
  • Right from my web browser’s address bar I can use Google’s services to:
    • view the current weather conditions for any location in the world
    • find current stock market data for a given company
    • view the current time in many cities around the world
    • view scores and schedules for NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB sports teams
    • view the precise times of sunrises and sunsets for many U.S. and worldwide cities
    • use the built-in calculator function
    • convert many different units of measurement of height, weight, and volume
    • find information about recent earthquakes in a specific area
    • view trends for population and unemployment rates in U.S. states and counties
    • find a definition for a word or phrase
    • check the spelling of a word
    • find reviews and showtimes for movies playing near me
    • find information about a common disease or symptom
    • find information about most generic and brand name prescription drugs in the U.S.
    • find tips on how to stay healthy from U.S. Health and Human Services and a flu shot locator which uses Google Maps to show you nearby locations offering flu vaccines during the flu season
    • view flight status for arriving and departing U.S. flights
    • use the built-in currency converter
    • track packages by typing the tracking number for my UPS, Fedex or USPS package
    • search for U.S. patents
As you can see the possibilities are endless! I said that I use the cloud for 95% of my computer use. Right now that other 5% is made up of very robust or computer intensive programs like advanced graphic editing software or emulation and programing software. Everyday I learn about or find a web app that is taking the place of traditional software. It is only a matter of time before I can rely on cloud computing for everything I need to do on the computer.

You may have noticed that this article has favored Google rather strongly. Google is a major pioneering force in this move to cloud computing and as a result has created a host of free web apps to get people started. We have a training class designed to help you get started with cloud computing using Google services. We will help you set up a free account and give you one hour's worth of training on using many of their web apps. From there you can decide if you would like more indepth training on any one particular area. If you are
interested in learning more about cloud computing and how you can get started please give us a call.

I sincerely hope you decide to start making the climb.