Over the past 2 years or so, we have been seeing big pushes to making cloud computing available and affordable to most countries/households. If you are unclear of what cloud computing is, or the cloud in general here is a quick run down.
The cloud is a nickname for the internet. It represents something that can not be seen, touched, tasted, smelt or heard but is almost always there. A more technical explanation of the cloud is: information/programs being stored on a server elsewhere in the world that you can access at any time. Currently the cloud is being used for many things including: movies, music, games, data, and entire operating systems. Usually to get involved with a cloud based company, you need to register with one that has one of the services listed above that you are looking for. Some of them are free, some of them you have to pay for (thus is life). When using the cloud, instead of files/programs being stored on your computer and taking up your precise hard drive space, it is stored on a company’s server allowing you to access it from usually any internet enabled device anywhere in the world. This has many advantages and disadvantages which I will talk about in a bit.
Some good examples of companies that have embraced the cloud are: Google, Onlive, Dropbox, Spotify, Netflix, and many others. Google is probably the most well known of these companies and their integration of the cloud is very similar to that of dropbox. Google offers a service called Google Drive, which gives you 5gb of storage on their servers for you to store ANY kind of file you want. You can also install Google Drive on any number of computers which will create a new folder appropriately called “Google Drive”. When you drop something into this folder it is automatically synced into the cloud, and then synced locally on any machine that has your Google Drive account associated to it. Dropbox offers the same kind of service as well. Google Chrome works with the cloud to, just like Firefox, they take all your settings and associate it with a sign on ID. When you sign onto the browser in another location, it brings all your settings and personalization along with it. Very handy in deed. These are all round useful tools, however you still need to be able to have a large enough hard drive to store all the information being synced. Onlive, Spotify, and Netflix have choosen to approach the cloud from a very different angle. They have each taken an area of entertainment (games, music, and movies respectably) into the cloud. With these three services it doesn’t matter how much space your computer has left, or if it’s a $200 netbook or a $1500 power house of a computer. Onlive for example, which allows you to play games in the cloud, can bring AAA games to any internet enabled computer and the user is able to play them at the highest graphics settings. This is possible because the game isn’t being played on the users computer, but rather on Onlive’s servers and then the picture and sound is being streamed to your computer. Your mouse/controller movements are then sent back to Onlive and the character on the screen reacts accordingly. Netflix does the same thing but with movies, and Spotify the same thing with music. With these 3 applications you have access to hundreds of games, thousands of movies, and millions of songs, all with less disk space than Microsoft office.
There are some clear advantages to having these kinds of services, the main on being: you don’t have to go out and buy an expensive computer or a big hard drive to store everything any more. You can buy a cheap laptop/netbook and in some cases a tablet and have your personal entertainment and important files with you everywhere you go. Another advantage is that because this is all stored in the cloud, you never have to worry about your computer crashing or losing data. If you need to restore your computer for whatever reason, you just need to install the applications again and all your data will sync right back up with your computer like it never left. Lastly, we live in a world where everything is instant, we have instant messaging, instant data, instant directions. If I wanted to a see a video of a kitten sleeping I can find that in about five second. Before these companies came along, if you wanted music/movies/or games you had two choices, you either go out and buy a physical copy and then copy/install it onto your computer or you find somewhere to download it. Both required a fair amount of waiting depending on what you were trying to get. With these services there is no need to wait, everything is instant. I want to watch that movie now, I want to listen to that song now, I want to play that game now. What’s better then not waiting…imagine…instant pizza delivery…
There aren’t just benefits to consumers here, these services also benefit the people making all this content. Onlive and Spotify have free options, meaning you can register for free to try out the service. If you choose to subscribe for $10 a month you get UNLIMITED access to ALL this content, and you are supporting the people who make the content.
With all these pros there are definitely some cons. The biggest con being that with all this information at your fingertips, it has to come from somewhere, the internet. As I’m sure since you are reading this now, you know that the internet is not free, nor cheap. I’m not sure how it works in the rest of the world but in Canada we have bandwidth caps. This means that we have our allotted amount of bandwidth we can use. If you are like me who streams everything over the internet, you reach that number pretty quickly. Bandwidth caps and more importantly, the prices we pay for going over these caps are what is keeping this so expensive for the consumer.
The future of cloud computing is a very interesting one and one that I hope will eventually take over. We’ll have instant access to all the newest releases, up to date news, and have our most important files always backed up. Imagine only having to go out and buy a 200 dollar computer, and all it does is connect to the web, because that’s where everything is stored and run. You don’t need to learn about the newest hardware or specs and you don’t need to update your computer when it gets out of date. The only thing stopping this kind of world from taking off is that of the internet providers. If they don’t start allowing unlimited bandwidth and cheaper rates people will end up spending more money on things they will need to replace. I fully support the cloud and think it’s the logical next step for computers to take.