What is cloud computing and how do I use it?

Cloud computing has taken the IT world by storm, quickly making its way up the list of technology buzz words -- but what does the term really mean? And how will cloud computing change the way you manage and organize your digital information in the future?

(Relaxnews) -

Cloud computing has taken the IT world by storm, quickly making its way up the list of technology buzz words - but what does the term really mean? And how will cloud computing change the way you manage and organize your digital information in the future?

Cloud computing is essentially the management and provision of applications, information and data as a service. These services are provided over the internet, often on a consumption-based model.

Cloud computing provides a convenient way of accessing computing services, independent of the hardware you use or your physical location. It relieves the need to store information on your PC, mobile device or gadget with the assumption that the information can be quickly and easily accessed via the net. Cloud computing also negates the need to download or install dedicated software on your own computer, freeing up onboard memory and reducing energy costs.

You are probably already using cloud computing services without realizing it. Google is one of the most prominent companies offering software as a free online service to billions of users across the world. The internet giant hosts a set of online productivity tools and applications in the cloud such as email, word processing, calendars, photo sharing, and website creation tools.

Microsoft has also spent big bucks on cloud computing. In November 2009 the firm announced the availability of the Windows Azure platform - a consumption-based cloud computing service that provides web tools for businesses. Microsoft's Azure platform will bring the company closer to its "three screens and a cloud" vision.

On February 8, cloud computing company DiscCloud announced it was launching Flurry, the world's first-ever Mac OS X desktop cloud infrastructure. Flurry facilitates the instant delivery of content and applications to Mac users via the internet; it enables them to listen to their entire iTunes Library or run iWork (Apple's word processing suite) from the cloud.

Major corporations including Amazon, IBM, Sun, Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, Novell and Oracle have also invested in cloud computing and are now offering individuals and businesses a range of cloud-based solutions.

Every day new start-ups are popping up offering their clients easier, better, faster and more secure options for cloud computing.

Analysts have indicated that future technology leaders will gravitate to cloud-based models as a way to deploy software and to store content. IT research analyst Gartner listed Cloud Computing as a key Strategic Technology Area for 2010 in its report on the top IT trends to watch in 2010.

In January 2010 ABI Research estimated that more than 240 million business customers will be using cloud computing services on mobile devices by 2015.

The trend points to PCs becoming a gateway into the cloud - removing the need for onboard storage and freeing consumers to leap from one device to another depending on their needs.

Consumers will no longer have to download and install memory-hogging applications and software on their device and will instead be able to access everything they need via a powerful internet browser. With this model, the majority of computing software will be rented on an as-needed basis instead of being bought as an expensive one-off purchase.

The main drawbacks to a system that is predominantly hosted in the cloud are issues of information security and the possibility of internet outages. Security concerns were cited as the primary reason why organizations were not currently making the transition into the cloud in a November 25, 2009 study on IT security issues published by Launchpad Europe.

The European Union's report on the future of cloud computing: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ict/ssai/docs/cloud-report-final.pdf

A list of the top 150 players in cloud computing can be found on the Cloud Computing Journal website: http://cloudcomputing.sys-con.com/node/770174

Launchpad Europe's IT Security Index 2009 report: http://www.launchpad-europe.com/images/PR07LPDE-ITSecurityintheCloudFV.pdf

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