With the growing use of web-based software, more of us today are becoming accustomed to working “in the cloud”.  Cloud Computing simply refers to the sharing of computer resources using the internet.  You are using the cloud when you’re writing an article for your blog on WordPress.com, uploading your photos to Flickr.com, or entering your customer information into Salesforce.com.  Despite the benefits to using the cloud, many people are still uncomfortable with the idea of storing their information in vague locations around the internet.  While it’s prudent to be cautious about the online services you use, there is no reason to be fearful of the technology itself.  Most people were apprehensive about shopping on the internet during its infancy, but today it would be hard to find someone who hasn’t bought something online at least once.  If you’re one of those folks having trouble getting cozy with the cloud, here are a few steps to help put you at ease:

1. Use Online Email

If you use Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, or any hosted email service than you are already using the cloud!  All of your email in these accounts are stored somewhere other than your computer.  Sure, these services have had a few rare outages, but you’ve never lost email from these accounts due to corrupt files or hard drive failures.  If you’re one of the 5 people who haven’t used an online email service, give one a try and you will become more confident in the security and flexibility of hosted applications.

2. Fly on a Plane

For some people who suffer from the fear of flying, it is a result of one or more specific phobias such as claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) or agoraphobia (the fear of sweaters).  For most, however, the affliction is simply caused by the feeling of not being in control.  Of course, this anxiety isn’t based on logic.  Unless you are Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger, chances are that you and the other passengers are much safer with the pilot behind the controls instead of you.  Similarly, most reputable online software companies are better equipped and more experienced to protect your data than you are.

3. Trust but Verify

It’s understandable to be concerned about the security of your information.  Do your due diligence before putting sensitive information in the cloud.  Most online services offer information on their website about how they store and protect your data.  Smaller, start-up service providers often use resources from larger internet companies, like Amazon Web Services, so they can offer large scale application deployment and security.  These data centers generally employ encryption and other sophisticated electronic security measures, as well as redundancy (data stored in multiple locations), and even physical security (actual guards with badges and guns).  This is probably more protection than you are getting from your laptop, but trust your data with only those companies that you have confidence in.

4. Keep a Local Backup

If it makes you feel better to have your data in your physical possession, then by all means keep a local backup.  Most online applications let you easily download a backup of your data anytime you’d like.  Google Docs, for example, has a feature that allows you to download all of your documents as one zip file.  Eventually you’ll come to realize that you’ll have little need for that backup, as your online data will always be accessible and current.

What’s so great about using the cloud?  Because much of the data processing and storage occurs on a remote server rather than your computer, cloud computing offers several advantages:

  • It reduces the resources required of your computer (explaining the rise in popularity of netbooks).
  • Your data is not in danger of being lost if anything happens to your computer.
  • There’s no need to install or upgrade software (updates happen transparently on the web).
  • You can access your data from any computer.
  • You can easily share and collaborate with others.

For businesses, using the cloud means they can spend less on maintaining their own IT infrastructure, and invest instead in revenue-generating activities like Super Bowl ads.

Although you have nothing to fear from the cloud, its use does come with responsibilities.  It’s important to protect your passwords and use precautions when using public computers and wifi.  You also want to understand the policies regarding copyright protection and ownership for any websites where you share any intellectual property.

When used responsibly and securely, the cloud offers tremendous power and flexibility by leveraging the true potential of the internet.

Are you a fan or skeptic of the cloud?  What do you like most, or what scares you most, about cloud computing?

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