A Silver Lining
IT is continuing to evolve: computers are becoming smaller, easier to maintain, and more intuitive, Internet connection speeds are increasing at an enormous rate, and major changes in how IT resources are delivered are happening right now. If you would like to have a calendar, access your files remotely, have an address book, or any other number of tasks, this generally requires obtaining applications, purchasing equipment, and/or making changes to an IT environment. This is what is changing: by way of cloud computing it is possible to have files available to all of your computers even if they are in different locations. Calendars, address books, tasks, can also be universally accessible. This is all possible without getting new equipment, maintaining servers, or obtaining software licenses.
Think about electricity. Everyone uses a different amount and thus everyone pays a different service fee. IT isn't always like that. If you would like your office files available on your home computer without having to transport them on a flash "drive", it would be necessary to obtain a server, possibly a VPN firewall, and possibly software licenses. Since you want to be able to grow without having to replace equipment every few months, it is necessary to purchase equipment and software even if all of the capability of that equipment and software won't be used initially. Cloud computing drastically changes this model. With cloud computing, you don't obtain any equipment or software licenses. Instead you receive your IT capability in the same way you receive electricity. Your IT is received as a dynamically scalable service. You can use more or less as you wish and the IT expense adjusts accordingly. Infrastructure maintenance, upgrades, etc. are handled by the cloud provider in the same way the power company maintains power equipment. If this seems a bit abstract, that's OK. What follows are two real examples that will most likely relate to the majority of readers of this publication.
Do you have more than one computer? Do you have computers in different locations? Would you like to easily backup your files off-site? If the answer to at least one of these questions is "yes", then services such as Rackspace's Jungledisk cloud storage service will be exciting to you. Instead of having to get software, routers, servers, etc., for about $4 / month a full file server is provided for you. Since this is a cloud service, the service is scalable like electricity. If you use more storage one month, the rate is a little higher, if you less storage another month, it's a little less. As far as the subscriber is concerned, there are no servers, so software, no complication. Using a cloud provider like Jungledisk is very easy. If you use a GNU/Linux computer your Jungle Drive just shows up on your home screen and if you use a Windows computer your Jungle Drive shows up in My Computer. Copying something to a Jungle Drive is easy. Simply drag folders or files and they are copied to safe off-site storage and can be accessed by any of your computers in any location.
Beyond files, many readers may be excited about the idea of having a calendar, address book, to do list, and e-mail folders, synced between all computers and even their PDA (Nokia, Blackberry, Android, etc.) This works the same way. Without obtaining servers, software licenses, or more equipment, cloud based "groupware" services such as Rackspace's Exchange service take care of all of this as easy as it is to read this sentence.
There is no doubt that the cloud computing model is the future and offers an incredible leap forward. Cloud computing will enable more people to effortlessly do more with their technology. As with any third party service, it is critically important to be sensible when choosing what personal information will be saved on the cloud. Remember your cloud data is available to a third party and every employee of that third party, so it is advisable to avoid storing ultra sensitive information.