Computing In the Cloud.

Computer on a Cloud
Cloud Computing, Not.1

These days computer talk often turns to “cloud computing.” Sounds like a laptop or iPad on a plane, but It’s not. So what is it and is it right for you?

Where Is the Cloud? The “cloud” isn’t a specific place; cloud computing refers to a shared approach where your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer uses resources on a larger, remote computer, often over the internet. Your own device may be little more than a keyboard and monitor with most of the actual computing taking place on the remote machine. Google Docs, a suite of MS Office-like programs, works that way. The software and files are on Google’s servers; you access them through the internet.

Advantages. Cloud computing offers several advantages:

Disadvantages. These benefits are not without their costs:

Diagram of Cloud Computing
Devices Using Software and Hardware in the "Cloud."2

The story of Danger Com­puting (real name) illustrates these risks. Danger provided cloud storage for T-Mobile's Sidekick phone, enabling users to store much more data than their phones could. Great until Danger lost the files and had no back up (some eventually were recovered). Danger is owned by Microsoft, so size is no assurance of safety.5

Is the Cloud For You? It depends on your needs and priorities. If you expect your computing requirements to grow rapidly, a cloud provider with a large network can easily provide more capacity as your business grows. On the other hand, if you want total control, the cloud is not for you.

A Wall Street Journal article6 suggests that those considering the cloud ask —

The New York Times has a similar article specifically for small businesses.7

The bottom line is cloud computing is neither cumulus nor nimbus.


  1. Cloud photo from NOAA.
  2. Diagram by Sam Johnston from Wikipedia.
  3. Brian X. Chen, "The Cloud" Challenges Amazon, N.Y. Times, December 26, 2012.
  4. In January 2012 FaceBook manipulated certain users’ news feeds to test how their posts were influenced by positive and negative items they read. Vindu Goel, Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry, N.Y. Times June 29, 2014.
  5. Rory Cellan-Jones, The Sidekick Cloud Disaster, BBC News, October 13, 2009.
  6. Roger Plant, To Cloud, or Not to Cloud, The Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2011.
  7. David H. Freedman, Thinking About Moving to the Cloud? There Are Trade-Offs, N.Y. Times, September 21, 2011.

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Updated July 9, 2014.