To many (if not most) individuals across the world, when they hear the term “the cloud”, they have no real idea what it means. While it is amusing to think that there are millions of people walking around thinking that digital information is being stored in the meteorological phenomenon, it is genuinely concerning that the vast majority of the population is using a form of technology to store and share their personal information that they do not understand in the slightest. Cloud computing is something that has dominated the technological landscape for years now, and for those of us who make such liberal use of it, it would be prudent to take the time to understand just how it functions on a rudimentary level.
The term “the cloud” refers to cloud computing, a method of allowing users to take advantage of data storage and computing power resources without direct active management being required. That is the technical definition at least. However, the term is not primarily used in that way. Generally, when any given individual is talking about the cloud, they are specifically talking about data centers that have been made available to large amounts of users over the internet. These enormous clouds that have become more and more common in recent years have one primary function for which they have become known ubiquitously. They allow those who use them to not have to worry about the amount of storage space they have on whatever device they are using, so long as that device is connected to the internet. Cloud computing is obviously a complex subject, but to the layperson using the term that is almost certainly what they are referring to when they talk about the cloud.
Cloud computing first became popular and widely known as early as 2006, when Amazon.com released a product called Elastic Compute Cloud. However, the phrase cloud computing itself is first believed to have been used about a decade prior to this. While Amazon may have planted the seeds for cloud computing to grow into the ubiquitously used behemoth we see today, it would be disingenuous not to credit the iPhone and iCloud products sold by Apple for making the cloud a term almost everyone using technology today is aware of.
The goal of cloud computing is to make available to those who use it a variety of different functions and technologies without needing any kind of knowledge or understanding of them, while also drastically reducing IT costs and the amount of money the users must spend on hardware and software. The technology that gives users all of these benefits from cloud computing is something called virtualization. Virtualization is a term whose definition is exactly what it sounds like. Virtualization software allows individuals to separate the actual physical computing device they are using into a digital device, meaning that all of the information on their computer is stored online instead of needing to take up the limited storage space on the hardware they have at home. In a nutshell, that is the cloud; a digital copy of a physical device.