Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Primer On Cloud Computing

Cloud computing seems to be all the rage these days. But what is it? In my last post I introduced you to Seth Azria, Esq., and his offsitelawcenter blog. Today I can going to share with you a great educational piece that Seth has written about cloud computing.

Cloud Apps can Stand Alone

With powerful applications running in the Cloud, we can now do most of the things traditionally associated with a desktop machine on a website. The "Cloud" is just equipment and software run by someone else that we can use or rent. Check out the "PowerPoint" slideshow.

I suppose the classic example is writing a letter using Word or WordPerfect. Now, it is possible to write, edit, share, print, download, and store letters without any software, except a web browser. And we can write that letter from any computer with an Internet connection. Google Docs is an example of a web-based suite of productivity software. Adobe has Acrobat.com and Buzzword.

While web applications are not typically as feature rich as a desktop program they do have most of the features that most people use most of the time. For example, I use Google Docs - bundled into the Google Apps suite- to compose nearly all of my documents and return to Word if I need complex formatting, tables of contents, tables of authorities, etc.

What the Cloud applications may lack in traditional features they more than make up for in features never before known. Sharing and collaboration is quite extraordinary in Google Docs where both people can work on the same document simultaneously and see revision in real time. That's two people working on the same document- not two people looking at two copies of the same document that later must be reconciled.

With Acrobat through Acrobat.com you can distribute a PDF to multiple people for review an see there comments roll in in real time. Another example is the Cloud Computing presentation posted on the Cloud page of this site- it was very easy to create and post that "PowerPoint" sideshow using Google Docs.

With Cloud Applications generally, you also never have to update software because the service provider handles that centrally and for all users. Your data is always available from any computer with a web browser and a connection to the Internet. And as many "Cloud" services have desktop clients for use on a particular machine the on-line version also acts like a backup. A client is a program installed on a computer designed specially to work with a particular service. Outlook is probably the most famous email client, TweetDeck is likely the most famous Twitter client. More on email clients.

With data stored in the cloud and accessible through powerful web applications, it is like having your computer with you all the time. Even if you leave it at home or run it over with a bus. It is liberating and the raises all sorts of possibilities.

Web based applications have become so robust that I often prefer using them to the desktop clients and programs. For example, I often use my hosted GMail account and calendar directly through a web browser. While I could run them through iCal or Mac Mail, viewing and composing directly through the website I don't miss much.

I installed Google Notifier for alerts on incoming mail. But even that is redundant, because both my iPhone and iPad beep when new mail arrives. One email triggers 3 beeps, just like a reminder for an appointment triggers an independent reminder on the iMac, MacBook, iPhone, and iPad. And that brings me to second point about how the "Cloud" bridges data across machines.

The Cloud Bridges Data Between Devises

In a very short time, technology has come a very long way.

The Cloud has elevated professional flexibility through technology to an entirely different level.

Cloud Apps and services have destroyed the concept of location specific data. The problem of having left the file on the office computer is not a problem any longer- just as having all email available all the time via a smart phone has become SOP, so too is it a range of other types of data.

Data stored anywhere can be everywhere and anywhere automatically.

For example, It is now easy and simple to have precisely the same contact list, email account, and calendar on a smart phone, work computer, home computer, and have a usable copy on-line. Apple's MobileMe will do all this, as will Google Apps- and for prices that do not even approach a cup of coffee a day.

It is also not difficult to have todo lists (e.g. todo for iPad, iPhone, toododle.com), notes (e.g. Evernote for iPad, iPad, adn Desktop) and entire file structures in the GBs sync accross machines. (e.g. Dropdox for iPad, iPhone, and Mac).

In all the examples above, every change made anywhere is reflected everywhere else, instantly and automatically. A few years ago with MobileMe, I thought it was cool to have a contact added on my phone just appear on my office computer almost instantly and without doing anything. Now the same principle applies to nearly everything.

We are now in the era of having our data wherever and whenever we need it. And we can do it without technical expertise or large IT budget. That's perhaps the biggest news, using and setting this stuff up is simple.

Technology changes too quickly and is too complicated? Yes and no. The first condition has largely solved the second. Just under my watch in the last five years, I have noticed a dramatic increase in functionality with a decrease in complexity to match.

Easy, simple, and sometimes even free tech can have big impact on how you work and how you have to work.

Give this stuff a try, you may like it and you may like it so much that you start to write about it. If you get stuck, you can Google your problem, use the Help centers included in practically everything, or just come back to the OSLC and ask by commenting any post.

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