What is the Cloud?

Written by Todd A. Long

July 14, 2022

Last week, Sterling talked about servers and how they function. This week, we’re going to talk about a related concept: the cloud. But, before you read any further, if you don’t already know what a server is and how it works, go back and read last week’s blog. Trust me, this will make a lot more sense if you do.

To start, let me say this: the cloud and all of its various capabilities are highly complex and multifaceted and certainly cannot be covered in one blog post. That being said, it is fairly simple to explain cloud servers if you understand physical servers, so that’s what we’ll focus on today.

Before we get into cloud servers, we need to understand exactly what the cloud is. It’s not a fluffy white ball in the sky, and it’s not some nebulous system that is somehow not physical. If you store data “in the cloud,” your information is stored somewhere, physically, on machines. In fact, it’s stored in many places, physically, on many machines. You don’t need to worry that your data is just floating around somewhere, lost in the cloud (as much as the name “cloud” might lead you to believe that). We should also understand that there is no single “cloud.” Cloud services is a concept, and there are countless different providers of cloud services. Some of the most popular are Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Salesforce. Each of these providers has enormous networks of physical machines that store data for millions of people and businesses. When we talk about the cloud, what we’re really talking about is a different environment than your personal technology.

Before the cloud, everything your computer was able to do—every function, every piece of software, every service—was run locally on your computer. If you wanted to type a document in Word or do your company’s accounting in QuickBooks, you downloaded a piece of software that lived on your computer and then ran that software on your machine. Remember the days when everything that you did on one computer stayed on that one computer and couldn’t be accessed elsewhere? Those were the pre-cloud days.

The cloud, however, works like this: instead of running a piece of software on your own computer, a cloud machine is running that software, and you are simply accessing it from your machine. So, when you open a web browser and log in to Netflix or Google Drive or iCloud (all cloud-based services), there is a machine somewhere running those applications and granting your computer access. It’s just not your machine. That’s what the cloud is.

So, in the context of servers, the cloud can be an extremely useful tool. If you take the concepts I just explained and translate them to the server world, you’ll see why. Instead of purchasing a potentially very expensive server and then managing that server yourself, you can purchase space in the cloud, store your data and information there, and the cloud provider (whether it be AWS, Microsoft, Google, or someone else) manages it for you. Their security systems, their backups, and their resources protect your data.

Now you should be asking, “But is that safe? How do they manage it? What’s best for my business?” Great questions. Charles is going to answer all of those questions next week. He’ll help you apply big concepts like the cloud and server systems to your small business. That’s just what we do.

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