Cloud_in_a_blue_sky_WAYou hear a lot about cloud computing and things being ‘in the cloud’ these days. It’s become a magical term to describe just about everything having to do with computing. But, what do marketers and computer people mean when they talk about this ‘cloud’?

The short answer is that the cloud is simply someone else’s computer. The “someone else” is generally a large data center operated by a company you’ve never heard of like Switch Communications; which owns over 3 million square feet of data centers in Nevada and generates power from a 100 Megawatt solar power plant.

When you access software or use storage ‘in the cloud’, it goes to computers that companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon have installed in these giant data centers.

The concept of accessing programs and storage on someone else’s computer is as old as computing. The invention of the personal computer, with software installed using floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and DVDs, is now seen as a blip in the history of computing. Network computing, or cloud computing, has proven itself to be a much more flexible and powerful model. Instead of owning and maintaining your own powerful computers, you can access computers that are much better and more powerful than what you can afford over a network.

A more recent exception to the rule of network computing is mobile apps. When Apple created the iPhone, the original idea of it was that it would take advantage of the power of the internet and the web (cloud computing) to let programmers create flexible and powerful software that could be used on any mobile device without the need for installing or updating apps. The iPhone was originally designed around the idea of the mobile web app (aka ‘cloud computing’).

At that time (2007), web apps weren’t good enough and mobile web browsers weren’t powerful enough to run the sorts of applications that people wanted (despite the fact that Apple had created the best mobile web browser of the time). With this, Apple changed its plans and allowed programmers to create installable mobile apps for the iPhone, and thus was born the app store. This technological decision became the foundation of the native VS web app battle. Programmers had to choose how to write their apps.

As time has passed, the web got faster and it has become possible to do nearly anything you want ‘in the cloud’. Mobile web apps have started to function more like native apps, and native apps have started to use more web technologies. Today, most mobile apps are a hybrid of web and native.

Native mobile apps and native data storage require us to buy faster phones with more storage capacity on a regular basis, rather than simply being able to access ‘the cloud’ using an adequate device. This, of course, is planned obsolescence, and it’s made possible by the same thing that makes us feel like we need to upgrade our personal computers and laptops continuously.

Today, Chromebooks and other inexpensive personal computers can access the Web as well, or better, than expensive, heavy laptops and desktops. Online applications such as Google Docs have eliminated much of the everyday person’s need for a powerful personal computer.

The same thing is gradually happening with mobile and mobile phones. Thanks to the web, the need for purchasing a new smartphone to keep up with technology is rapidly going away. Whether you call it cloud computing, network computing, or mobile web apps, the distributed model of computing just makes more sense and makes the World Wide Web accessible and open to the wide world.

What is “The Cloud”?