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The cloud icon has been used to symbolize a larger, connected network in technology diagrams for at least 30 years, so it’s not hard to imagine how the concept has migrated to its modern context: a collection of inter-connected computing and storage resources that can be shared amongst multiple services that can scale up and down as needed. If you are of a generation that recalls mainframes, mini-computers and batch runs (today’s PC is actually a “micro-computer” in the vernacular of the mainframe age), it’s a similar concept, except that instead of a single, gigantic device, the mainframe is now an array of CPU’s, storage devices and network interfaces spread across multiple locations and interconnected by the internet. If your understanding is still amorphous, you have creeping semantics to blame for that as well – the term “cloud” has become synonymous for internet-based resources, which can lead to plenty of confusion and debate about privacy, resilience and security.
Clear skies or storm warning ahead?
Just as being able to tell the difference between thunderheads and fluffy cumulonimbus can help us make decisions about grabbing the umbrella or sunglasses, understanding what is “cloud-based” or “hosted” or “virtualized” (or all three) can help you make informed decisions about what services and resources you utilize for your organization’s technology needs. As “cloud-based” has become something of a marketing hobby-horse that is frequently used out of context, it may be very hard to understand how the “cloud” comes into play in any given offering, if at all. If the “cloud” is mentioned to denote omnipresent resources or availability, it may be worth investigating whether this claim has any substance. Is the company or service in question making use of Amazon’s Web Services or Microsoft’s Azure platform? Those are examples of true cloud-computing platforms – very large endeavors and companies use services like these to power their own services and apps. Is your website or email “in the cloud” or is it “hosted”? For casual conversation, it doesn’t really matter (what matters is you don’t have a server on premise to manage anymore!), but it may be important make that distinction when it comes to evaluating your own organization’s technology security and resilience, especially if you are required to maintain compliance with industry regulations or federal laws.
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