A cloud is a visible mass of particles of water or ice suspended in the air. Meteorologists study them as a part of… oh wait, you meant cloud computing. Gotcha!
Cloud computing happens to be one of the most useful utilities of our era—it has redefined the concept of “accessibility” in terms of data storage. There’s a lot of rubbish about why it’s referred to as the cloud (I suspect it has something to do with the way engineers ambiguously described meta-networks back in the day), but the word itself can actually be used to illustrate the idea in a very simple way.
So you have all your technology—files, applications, critical data and the like—as a part of your own personal infrastructure. You’re responsible for everything, including maintenance and repairs. If something doesn’t work right, it’s because there’s something wrong with your setup, and now you have to fix it. Sounds fun, right?
That’s exactly what cloud computer seeks to eliminate. Instead of an infrastructure being a part of your tangible work-base, all your intangible technology can be accessed from a remote location owned by a cloud “provider” via an internet connection and web browser.
It’s almost like all of your essentials are now floating in the sky, waiting to be accessed anytime you want… like clouds. Well, I guess you would need really long arms to reach up and grab a cloud. And then of course there are clear days in which no clouds are visible. Then there’s the problem of… You know what? I officially hate analogies. Wherever this cloud is, it has all of your stuff, and it’d be happy to let you use your stuff whenever you want!
So what exactly is required on your end as far as maintenance goes? Pretty much nothing. As long as you have a stable (and preferably fast) internet connection, you’re good to go. If something goes wrong on the cloud provider’s end, it’s their job to fix it, not yours.
The funny thing about cloud computing is that a lot of us have been using it for a while without even knowing it. If you’ve ever used any sort of online e-mail application, you’ve been riding the cloud. If you’ve ever stored anything on Google Docs for later access, you might have passed directly through a stratocumulus (okay, I’m really done with the analogies now). The whole “cloud” concept is often thrown around as a buzzword these days—it’s fairly common technology that is often taken for granted.
The beauty of cloud computing is that it can be applied to almost anything. The benefits of having all your critical data stored at a remote location are far and wide—you can access it from anywhere, anytime; you can stop worrying about losing key files from crashes; you’ll be able to pocket money that would normally be spent on maintenance and repair costs; updating and patching software will no longer be a part of your schedule; you can play a game of Jenga with your thumb drives because you’ll no longer need them for updates; and more.
What about money? Again, it’s always simple with the cloud. When hopping aboard, you’ll most likely be capitalizing on Software, Platform or Infrastructure as a Service (S/P/IaaS). The first two are concerned with what I’ve been iterating throughout this article—everything being available through a web browser (PaaS refers to the same concept but deals with software-development platforms) and you only deal with a subscription fee.
IaaS is a little different—the cloud provider owns the hardware, networking, storage and servers, and all maintenance of said essentials is fully serviced. All you have to do is pay a monthly bill. You’ll be charged for the computing that you actually use rather than paying a flat bill each month. This will help you gauge usage in order to save costs and have a more accurate projection of your budget.
It really is that simple. Cloud computing has revolutionized the way we handle IT matters, and for a good reason. Your best bet is to hop aboard and reap the benefits.
 http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/10/31/what-is-the-cloud.aspx (Retrieved 5-31-2012)