Definition Wednesday: What is "the cloud?"

Cloud Computing

"The cloud" isn't really floating around in the sky — it's many computers housed in massive warehouses all over the world.

So what exactly happens when you save your photos and documents up to iCloud, Google Drive, OneDrive for Business, or some other "cloud-based" service? Cloud computing basically is a network of computers to store and process information instead of a single machine. Meaning, your data is stored on potentially several computers that are networked together via the internet and when you need them, your device downloads them again.

Where did this term come from?

Although most of us think of "the cloud" as a relatively newer term, the phrase was coined back in 1996 by Compaq. Steve Jobs saw the promise of shared resource computing and spoke about it at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in 1997.

What are the advantages of using a cloud service?

If your device has limited storage, you can keep files "in the cloud" and retrieve them as needed. This storage saving technique allows you to no longer carry around additional storage devices, such as pen drives, external hard dives, or optical burning devices. Another benefit is, if your files are not on your actual device and that device is broken or stolen, the data is not technically lost.

What are the dangers of using a cloud service?

Once your data is in the cloud, you've lost some control over it. Cloud services can be subject to data breaches (see Forbes: iCloud Data Breach: Hacking and Celebrity Photos) and depending on its privacy policies, companies may legally be able to hand over your data when asked by the authorities without a warrant.

Last Updated: August 23, 2016