We all know what it means to “have your head in the clouds”, but the expression “cloud computing” is a lot less familiar. I hadn’t heard of it myself until Misstics suggested I define it, since the concept seemed rather – well, foggy. A quick look on wikipedia was enough to convince me that you need to have your head firmly screwed on – i.e. not in the clouds, to be able to grasp this one.
Cloud computing is a new model for structuring and using computers. According to the traditional model, your computer needs to have enough capacity to be able to store all your data and be powerful enough to process all your operations. Cloud computing outsources that storage and those operations to vast processing centres owned by internet giants like Google, Yahoo, IBM or Microsoft. In practice, it works by distributing electronic data (photos, videos, messages etc.) among a “cloud” of machines (not just one) all of which are connected to each other via the internet. You are using this model without realising it when you download a video clip on YouTube. When you click on the video, a message is sent to the clouds of servers where these videos are stored, and, such is the power and speed of these servers, you can download the clip in a matter of seconds. Apple’s suite of features, MobileMe, is just another example of cloud computing: your data (files, agenda, contacts and so on) can be accessed wherever you are, as they are stored on a “cloud”. All you have to do is connect to the internet and enter a password to “retrieve” them to your computer or iPhone. MobileMe even uses a cloud as its symbol (see above).