Q.WHAT IS THE CLOUD?
A.Instead of accessing files from your hard drive, you are accessing files remotely. Cloud email is simply the way you’ve always accessed your webmail or Hotmail or Gmail. Cloud computing is taking that idea and extending it to everything you traditionally keep on your hard drive such as documents and pictures. A lot of people will look for pictures by finding them in an album on Facebook. That’s an example of keeping things in the cloud.
Q.ARE WE ALREADY USING IT?
A.Most people are unwittingly using it at some level – when they’re using Google docs, for example. If you’re using webmail to access your emails, or keeping photos on social networks like Facebook, you’re taking advantage of cloud computing. In the future most people will be using it at every level and all of the time, although there will be a few people who are old fashioned who will insist on keeping copies on their hard drive.
Q.ARE OUR FILES SAFE IN THE CLOUD?
A.Keeping things in the cloud is not an infallible system, but it’s much safer than hard-drive storage or keeping things on your actual computer. The hard-drive could be stolen, or lost in a house fire or suffer a failure – still a very common problem. You’re much more likely to lose files in this way than if it were backed up remotely with a professional company. They would have your files on a server, which would also be backed up in three other places at different server locations all round the world.
Q.WHAT CLOUD PLATFORMS ARE THERE?
A.If you’re a staunch Apple user and you’ve got an iPhone, then iCloud is a good solution. iCloud gives you 5GB free storage, although this may not be enough space for a lot of people. Dropbox is a great app. You can access files that you’ve uploaded anywhere, whether from your phone, on your laptop. For instance if you’re flying abroad and need to access your boarding card, pop it in Dropbox and pick it up on your phone at the airport. Google Chrome OS is a whole operating system in the cloud. It runs through a browser and that ties in with Google docs and calendar online.
Q.WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF RELYING ON THE CLOUD?
A.You need to be connected to the internet so lack of good data coverage is a barrier to operating completely in the cloud. If you’re relying on it through a phone, you should have good data coverage and at least 3G. If you’re using a laptop and there’s no WiFi you won’t be able to do very much as you wouldn’t have anything stored locally. It’s also worth considering the expense. If you’re trying to access something from Morocco from your phone and you have a UK data plan it can be very expensive, and if you want to store 70GB of music, you’ll need to pay for extra space. You can get away with light cloud computing for free at the moment. The cost will come down quickly in the future, and will eventually be cheaper than physical hard-drive storage. There could be a future where data for a certain service is free all over the world or comes at a fixed price.
Q.CAN WE HAVE OUR OWN CLOUD?
A.Yes absolutely. Pogoplug pro is designed for exactly this: a hard drive that plugs into your router. As long as you’re online, you can just log in and have access to your files wherever you are. Of course, if it breaks down you’ll lose that access.
SECURITY | GRAHAM CLULEY, CYBER SECURITY EXPERT AT SOPHOS
“Is cloud computing safe? Just ask Scarlett Johansson – who had candid photos that she intended just for her ex-husband Ryan Reynolds to see, but a hacker managed to break into her cloud-based email system and access them.
Whenever you put information into the cloud (or “internet” as us old fogeys call it) then you are making two decisions:
1 That you trust the cloud service itself to have proper security in place to prevent hackers from breaching their systems, and exploiting a vulnerability that could expose your data. We have seen countless examples this year of online systems that have been breached with embarrassing results for the .com sites, and potential risks for the exposed users.
2That you are acting securely yourself. For instance, if you use the same password on your cloud-based service as you do on another website and then you get your password phished, your entire online identity could be unlocked. That's not the fault of the cloud service, that’s your own sloppy security.
This isn't to say that cloud-based services are inherently insecure, but using the internet does not mean that you are somehow hacker-proof.”