By Bill Pfohl
Working on a Cloud
Andrea Canter, a past editor of Communiqué, recently wrote
inquiring about cloud computing. I have not covered it before,
so this column is an introduction to "the cloud."
What is the cloud? It is a storage computer network somewhere
else—up on a cloud, not on your computer. It can be
free or there can be a cost for storage space. Companies, such
as Google, are also placing software there, so you do not have
to own it or download it to your computer. Google Docs is
an example of this, where the software is on Google’s cloud
where you access it and store your files. Others can also access
your files there, with your permission. When I bought my
new Dell computer, it came with 2 GB of free cloud storage.
You can pay a fee for more storage space.
So in simple terms, cloud computing is working on a network
or server outside of your personal computer, as if up on
a cloud. It is not typically the same type
of server that you use at school, which
requires regular software updates, ongoing
maintenance, and an IT department
to oversee it. Clouds are owned
by a single company that offers services
to a group of ISP providers, individuals,
or groups of businesses working together. The costs are lower
(or free) due to amortizing the costs over large groups of users.
However, in doing research for this column, I found over a
dozen definitions of cloud computing, concerns about software
compatibility issues, and data security issues that need
to be addressed before you can truly say that cloud computing
is for you. It is also safe to say that there is no standard
to evaluate cloud computing at this time.
Many businesses are now being managed on a cloud because
it is flexible, less expensive, more mobile, and has lower
maintenance costs. Your credit card information is probably
stored on a cloud. Your medical information will be there in
the not too distant future. To use a cloud for computing, there
must be a few assurances—data storage capacity, quick accessibility,
reliability of access, and safety of data. Without
these assurances, cloud computing cannot be used by most
customers. Even Gmail has had outages in the past 6 months,
hackers can try to breach networks (e.g., the Pentagon), and
some countries (recently Egypt) have blocked all Internet
traffic. These situations would prevent or jeopardize access
to your data. Even cell phone companies have had outages
which would prevent access to your data. These issues pose
a serious concern for cloud computing.
An organization I am associated with wanted to use a cloud
for membership database storage. It was to interface with the
local PC computer software and update all files simultaneously
on the cloud storage for a low monthly fee. The services
lasted for less than 3 months due to significant issues with
data access, inadequate timely updates, etc. Also, the sales
person was not totally familiar with the issues regarding the
interface between the cloud software and the user computer
software. In theory, the service was promising but the execution
Why would you use a cloud? The first reason might be to
manage and store large files. As you increase your file size and
volume, need to purchase more hard drives, or increase media
related pictures/videos, cloud computing may be a cheaper alternative
than buying new back-up hard drives. Clouds can offer
free, always-up-to-date software (e.g., Google) that is free. You
do not own it but you can use it after you sign up for an account.
You can share files, photos, and videos on clouds. Picasa
by Google stores your pictures on a cloud. You can remotely
access and share files that you are working on in some clouds
from wherever you can find Internet access. You will not have
to carry a USB memory stick or laptop with large hard drive
storage capacity. You can also store large files on the Internet
so others can access them. Some e-mail services, schools, and
universities limit the size of attachments, so accessing them
from a cloud makes sense. The chief reasons for using the cloud
are: storage flexibility, lower cost, mobility, large storage space,
and less IT investment in hardware and software upgrades. If
you find yourself telecommuting, using a cloud to access your
office data at home may be a big time saver.
The biggest issues are mentioned above: ready access, security,
and cost. So far, it is not difficult to find free or lowcost
sites. Dell gives you a small file storage space hoping you
will pay for a larger storage space. Text files are small, while
media-related files can be very large. Google is building an
empire itself, and having a one-stop service for all their needs
is enticing for customers. So far, it is free. What are the down
sides? Data loss is one of the biggest if a cloud goes down or
is hacked. Security is the second critical
issue. Is your data secure and backed
up frequently? What are the ramifications
if your data are lost to a hacker?
Will you be able to share data as needed
or it is for your use only? Are the tools
to manage and store data adequate for
you? In the example above, it was not. Are my data encrypted
for safety? Is the ISP cloud collecting data on you, similar to
the recent issues with Google and Facebook? Has the cloud
had issues with down time (because this is where your data
are stored)? What arrangements are available to retrieve your
data if you choose to leave the cloud?
There are several sites that can work for storage of large
files, photos, and videos. I have stored pictures at www.ADrive
.com (50 GB free) and while it took some time to upload them,
several people could easily access them. You must set up an
account and password. YouSendIt (www.yousendit.com) is a
useful site as well. It works for both Windows and Macintosh.
There are upgrade services starting at $9.99 per month.
Windows Live is a new service by Microsoft that is all
on a cloud. Microsoft is planning on having its Office Suite
available as online only. Windows Live Skydrive is a storage
area and interfaces with Microsoft Office 2010. Up to 25 GB
of space is available for with those signing up for a free account.
If you are a Microsoft Hotmail user, this is another feature
from Microsoft. You can share files with others that are
encrypted and password protected. DropBox (www.dropbox
.com) is another service used by many. It has interfaces with
Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. It interfaces with your desktop
file structure. PicasaWeb (www.picasa.google.com) is for
photo and video sharing, as is www.Flickr.com. Try the free
software first before buying more expensive products. I do like
and use Open Office, too. It is free and you can download it
to your computer. It is compatible with Microsoft Office and
Corel’s WordPerfect suite.
So actually, cloud computing is something many of you
may have already used. I hope this article lets you better understand
what it is and how it can be used. Make sure to read
the fine print and understand the security features. You may
be committing to a monthly purchase and it is your important
data. You can always Google or Bing reviews for any cloud site
to see what issues they may have.
I have switched to Google Chrome as my main Web
browser. It is fast, accurate, and takes up little disk space. So
goodbye, Firefox. I like iGoogle.com for my webpage, too. Very
customizable and I like cartoons so....
Bill Pfohl, NCSP, is a professor of psychology at Western Kentucky
University in Bowling Green, KY. He is president of the International
School Psychology Association and a former president of NASP. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.