skip to Main Content

What is Cloud Computing

In the movie, “The Sex Tapes,” Jason Segal states to Cameron Diaz: “Nobody understands the cloud.  It’s a mystery!

Yet, numerous times in any day, each of us hears statements such as: “It’s in the Cloud,” or “We are moving to the Cloud,” or “I just sent that file to you in the Cloud.”   When spoken of, “the cloud” is always a singular entity and stated as an accepted, familiar fact — but what is it actually?

For over 100 years, the term “the cloud” was used in the telephone industry to describe the millions of pieces of equipment and connections in the telephone system that allowed one person to call another person through a “dialed number.”

When I started my career in the telecommunications industry, our electrical engineering professors would carefully describe the function of each telephone set, line, switch, trunk, data file, wired and wireless connection that made a telephone call possible.   Once described, they would then draw a rough cloud-like circle around the components and, somewhat flippantly, refer to the complex scene of interworking components as “the cloud.”

As I began designing and managing corporate networks, we relied heavily on merged voice and data communications and the Internet, as it grew, to deliver services to our customers.  Throughout this, we used the term “the cloud” to refer to the multitude of vendors, equipment, and software that made the delivery of such services possible.  It was an easy and familiar way to refer to the numerous pieces of equipment and connections that made emails, online transactions and the transfer of digital images possible.

Once computing and storage facilities were added, the term “cloud-computing” came into use.  The biggest difference between cloud computing and traditional laptop or desktop computing is that with cloud computing, your personal device doesn’t do the actual data processing.  Instead, that happens in a large computing center outside your location or organization, and you simply see the results of it on your own screen.  This is possible because of the network of millions of communications links connecting cloud users to the large computing and data storage centers that are part of “the Cloud.”

Cloud Computing Service Providers

Thus, “the Cloud” is not something in the sky, but rather a network of computers, lines, servers[1], and applications owned by companies, such as Amazon, Apple, DropBox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and MicrosoftThese companies offer various services so their customers can store files remotely, share them with authorized persons, and retrieve them on any computer, tablet, smartphone, etc. anywhere in the world, at any time — via the Internet. 

Some services are offered in “private clouds,” but generally companies provide both “free” and rented space on their equipment, depending on the amount of storage space each customer requires.  These are called “public clouds.”  Combinations of public and private clouds exist, known as “hybrid clouds.”  Such terms are useful mainly when companies are reviewing contracts with cloud providers, but for individuals, we are typically more concerned about price, security, and ease of use.

Reasons to Use Cloud Computing

While cloud computing provides these and other benefits for users, it also has its shortcomings or danger points.  Not all cloud services are the same, and you need to consider factors, such as those listed below, when you evaluate and select a cloud provider.

1.Network Speeds/Reliability. Since users access the cloud via networks, as more people use those networks they will require increased line speeds, reduced delay, and “service level agreements” (SLAs) to compensate for downtime. The same applies if the computers, servers, etc. have technical problems or outages.

2. Vulnerability to Downtime and Hacking. Since your information lives online, and you access it via the Internet, there’s always the risk of network failures or being hacked by someone. All cloud companies have security measures in place to protect their clients’ data, but they are not 100 percent secure – no matter how much is spent to safeguard the systems. The concerns for users include: a) Will they still be able to conduct business if downtime or a security breach occurred? and b) Can their businesses absorb such outages or losses?

3. Access-side Management is the User’s Responsibility. While cloud service providers install significant security on their systems, that is true only for the resources they own and maintain.  It does not include the user’s side of the system.  Getting to the cloud is the user’s responsibility — as is managing the software and security related to that.  This is critical since most of the recent data breaches and cloud outages have been primarily the result of user error, including the Equifax breach in 2017, caused by its failure to install a software patch, and Amazon’s 2017 outage of its “Simple Storage Service” (S3), caused by a typo in the system’s command instructions.

4. Service Contracts Vary. Not all cloud service providers offer the same services, have the same management policies, or extend the same service contracts.  Thus, cloud users may have limited control over such things as:

a. the levels of scalability available to them,

b. the operation and management of their Cloud service,

c. the specific bandwidth/capacity allowances offered,

d. the rates users will be charged for different levels of use on an annual basis, and/or

e. the fees charged if a user needs extra storage or exceeds their contracted allowance.

5. Proprietary Systems Exist. In some cases, cloud service providers use proprietary hardware, software, applications, and/or data formats when they build their systems, even if they use standard open source components as its base.  This can create “Vendor Lock-In” or “Forced Dependency” that may: a) require you to reconfigure your data to meet the requirements of the providers’ systems, and/or b) make it difficult to upload certain documents using some software packages, or to transfer or convert information between providers.

6. Data Location. Where precisely is your data stored?  Many cloud providers copy and store your files in various data centers around the world, many outside of the U.S., where they are not protected by our laws, jurisdictions, and governance.

7. Ownership of Your Data Can be Lost. Since the Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) own the servers onto which users upload files into the cloud, some cloud service contracts, but not all, state that once your data is on their servers, they own that data.  This is radically different from traditional in-house computing resources.  Users’ concerns include: a) “What happens to that data if my cloud provider goes out of business or I want to change providers?” and b) “If I have regulatory and ethical standards that I must meet, such as HIPPA and banking laws, how can I properly safeguard my data if I no longer own it?”

Cloud Computing Services

Cloud computing services usually fall into three different service models or levels:

1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Providers offer the equivalent of hardware and network bandwidth for a flat monthly fee.

2. Platform as a Service (PaaS). Platform services are composed of the virtual servers, operating system, middleware, and programming environment enabling fast application deployment.

3. Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS delivers the many applications we rely on daily in a hosted environment where all software and services are included in a predictable monthly fee.

The Future of Cloud Computing

The forecast for cloud services is that we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

1.Since workers in our mobile society will continue to use their own computers, tablets, and phones to do work – known as the “Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)” trend – and will continue to access files and client information from remote locations, the cloud will also continue to grow.

2. Streaming/Movie W Most entertainment in the future will be “in the Cloud,” requiring high speed networks to deliver them without the frustrating delays resulting in “tiling.”

3. Automatic Backup. Daily backups of data will become increasingly automated, ensuring greater ease for users in protecting their data.  Further, if a file must be restored, restoration will take seconds, not hours or days.

4. Software Agnostic. Providers will increasingly provide a complete catalog of software to support your work.  You will not have to change the software you use when you use the cloud.

5. Like the Internet, cloud services will increasingly be available globally – but laws will dictate whether the equipment should be within certain legal borders.  For U.S. users, most cloud computing will likely be located within U.S. borders to guarantee compliance with U.S. laws and regulations – although European law provides better security and privacy protection.

6. Security. Since hackers will continue to be active, cloud service providers will continue to spend increasing amounts on security to assure their customers that the most stringent security controls are in place to safeguard their data.

7. Disaster Recovery. Because natural disasters, power failures, human error, etc. can impact data centers, cloud computing providers will also invest in more backup locations that will automatically take over as the primary data center without user action.  The goal will be that data is never lost due to a disaster.



Thus, when someone says, “your data is in the Cloud,” you can know that it isn’t really in the sky. It is stored and processed on multiple pieces of equipment, in various locations on earth, and uses the Internet, to access that data

Cloud technology has been successfully used for years and is here to stay.  It is basically the next step in technology.  Thus, if you or your firm is not already using the Cloud, it is only a matter of time.


[1]server is a computer, device, or computer program that is dedicated to managing network resources. Servers are often referred to as “dedicated” because they carry out hardly any other tasks apart from their server tasks. Source:

Contact Sharon to speak to your group about:

  • develop strategies to maximize the potential of Cloud Computing for your needs,
  • learn how to protect yourself and your data in the Cloud.
Back To Top