Working at a SaaS vendor, I often assume my work terminology is easily understood by friends and family. I was reminded by my own family that this is not the case. When the topic of cloud computing came up while visiting my parents I realized my dad didn’t know what cloud computing really means, even though he already uses it everyday. He admittedly didn’t even really understand what I do here at MangoApps. That got me thinking that maybe if more people understood that they already are using this technology, they could change their perception of cloud computing and understand how it works to support efficient collaboration.
“In The Cloud”
There are many different definitions of what cloud computing really means. To be “in the cloud”, to share and collaborate in the cloud; most of us know what the cloud is indirectly but not fully understand the capabilities of the cloud. Most folks don’t realize web based email like Gmail or Hotmail is in the cloud. Facebook is in the cloud too. Some define cloud computing as an “updated version of utility computing” or by a broader terminology like, “anything you consume outside the firewall” as being in the cloud. But that doesn’t answer really answer the how’s and why’s for the non-techie population.
What Cloud Computing Really Means
Simply put, “the cloud” is a platform where we have long been working and playing. It’s really nothing more than the Internet. But what about that “computing” aspect of cloud computing? Take an internet service like AOL, where you received the “new and improved version” of the software on a CD-ROM and install it on your local hardware (hard drive on our PC). You’d then have the AOL software running on your own hardware in your own home or office. This was no different than using another local software like Microsoft Office. You would connect to a server like a chat room and in turn connect to other users, who also installed the AOL software locally from a CD-ROM. You were connecting over the internet to the AOL servers and technically even “cloud computing” way back then, but the software itself was locally installed on individual computers.
Fast forward a few years to present day cloud computing. It’s the same basic software, but running on hardware on the internet instead of being installed locally. Even AOL is now installed in some data center up there in the cloud. What cloud computing really means: instead of running software on your local machine, you are now using your web browser to get to it. They are installing the software you normally would, but instead of sending you multiple CD’s to install on your PC, they keep it up to date for you and run it on their hardware and have you connect through the internet. Games, email, social networking are just a short, common list of what you most likely do in the cloud every day.
Ah ha! So that’s what cloud computing really means, but what about file sharing?
I broke this down for my dad and he seemed to now understand the cloud, and what cloud computing really means. Now he wanted to know what he could do with it. My parents are on Facebook, they have Android phones, use Gmail and even do a little blogging. Their big hurdle is sharing and syncing files. How does that work in the cloud, securely, they wondered. Their crisp new understanding of the cloud was quickly turning stormy. They remember Napster, and they recently got a scam email invitation to share a chunk of their hard drive and memory to gain access to shared files. As small business owners, this scared them a bit. A friend suggested a cloud storage system with automatic file sync to their PCs and mobile devices, and they were a bit hesitant. I reminded them they forward just about every email with cool or interesting pictures to me, so they regularly share information on the Internet. They just weren’t connecting how file sharing happens in the cloud and what it means for their security.
Knowing our mutual visual nature, I drew out a quick diagram for them. I drew a big circle at the top making it puffy like a cloud. Then drew smaller circles down below for each of their devices and PCs with lines going back to the cloud. The diagram showed them as you add a file here, it uploads there, and back down to each of you other devices. Nothing else required. They could do it with any file they wanted to share, and they could even automatically share pictures they take on their Android phones to the cloud and instantly have them available on their laptop when they get home, or to share online on Facebook.
But what about safety in the cloud, isn’t my stuff just “out there”?
When the concern over safety and letting people have access to their files, I reminded them it’s safer and more secure to share them through this service than email. Once you send the email it’s gone and never to return. It can be forwarded 100 times and you never get control back…it’s gone. Conversely, I pointed out, using the cloud and sharing just the link keeps the file sharing in their control. You can disable the link or move the file if you no longer want it shared. Also, as an added benefit, that single link as long as you want to share it, always points to the latest version of the file. When you make a correction or update the spreadsheet you don’t need to to resend or email the file back to the recipients. It’s all updated real-time in the cloud.
After the diagrams and simple explanation I helped them set up all of their devices so their files and pictures were synced. They now understood what cloud computing really means. I turned to my dad and said,”Now you know what I do for a living.” He just smiled and nodded letting me know he finally truly understood.
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