What is cloud computing?

You’ve probably heard companies advertising “cloud computing services” or friends talking about saving photos to their “cloud drive.” But what does that mean exactly? Is our data just floating around out there somewhere? If you aren’t quite sure, you are not alone!
Cityscape with skyscrapers and abstract image of network in sky representing the cloud
Cloud computing means storing and accessing our data remotely from “the cloud”
A 2020 survey by our company revealed that only half of respondents thought they could explain what cloud storage is – and only a third could actually do it correctly. Today: Cloud computing explained.

Cloud computing: A definition

Cloud computing means that computing and IT services – like storage, databases, software and analytics – are provided over the internet. Instead of a company or individual purchasing physical servers or data centers, they use the resources of a cloud provider. For example, rather than buying an external hard drive to save all your digital photos, you might store them remotely on a cloud server. And on a much larger scale, a company will pay for computing power, storage or databases on an as-needed basis from a service provider instead of tying up their own resources in owning and maintaining data centers.

Why is it called “cloud” computing?

The name “cloud” paints a picture of data that only exists in the ether rather than an actual physical location. However, in cloud computing all the data and information is physically stored on servers in data centers – it is simply accessed remotely by the users. The use of the word “cloud” in this context evolved from the way we visualize the internet: as a vast network for sharing information and resources. On early diagrams, the internet was often represented by a cloud symbol – showing that the location of the service and the details of the network were irrelevant to the service provided. And this was in turn copied from past public telephone network schematics, which often simply used a cloud symbol rather than trying to illustrate a complex, interconnected structure.

Different types of cloud computing

There are different types and models of cloud computing. Cloud computing architecture can be roughly divided into three types: public, private and hybrid. A public cloud is owned and operated by a cloud service provider – this includes all hardware, software, and the supporting infrastructure. The cloud services are delivered over the internet, and the user accesses these services and manages their account through a web browser. Most individual users utilize a public cloud. A private cloud, as the name suggests, is used exclusively by a single business or organization. A private cloud might be a data center that is physically located on a company’s premises, but many businesses instead hire third-party providers to host their private cloud. A hybrid cloud combines these two models, and is also primarily used by businesses.

Cloud computing advantages

For businesses and organizations, cloud computing is all about flexibility and cost savings. It gives them access to IT resources that can be scaled up and down as needed, with no need to invest in physical infrastructure.

Most private individuals use the cloud for data storage – a safe place to save documents, photos, videos, etc. This can make your life easier in several ways:
  1. You can access your files and photos everywhere – all you need is an internet connection.
  2. It is easy to share photos, files, etc. with family and friends.
  3. It saves you the cost of purchasing and taking care of hardware such as external hard drives.
  4. Cloud backup means that the original and the copy are not in the same place, which can prevent loss due to viruses, theft, etc.
  5. Cloud storage is completely scalable – it’s easy to add more if you need it or cut back your plan if you don’t.

How secure is the cloud?

Experts agree that data stored in the cloud is likely more secure than conventionally stored data. One reason is that cloud hosting companies usually use far more robust cybersecurity measures to protect their customers’ data than a non-specialist company – or a private individual – could deploy. And keep in mind that saving your photos to the cloud will always be more secure than keeping them solely on a hard drive that can be fried by a power surge, a smartphone that you can drop into a stream while hiking, or a USB drive you can accidently leave in your jeans pocket on laundry day. Secure cloud backup is always a great “plan B.”

For those of our readers who use the mail.com Cloud, we’d like to assure you that, like other providers based in Europe and the United States, we adhere to the highest cloud security and data protection standards.

Bonus explainer: If you’d like to get started using mail.com’s free cloud storage, check out our how-to post. And watch this space: We’ll be back soon with some useful pointers for managing your holiday photos in our online storage tool.

If you found this post interesting, why not leave us some feedback below? And if you have any feedback about your mail.com email account, we’d love to hear from you on Trustpilot!

Images: 1&1/Shutterstock

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