The “Cloud”. The very name invokes an air of mystery and intrigue, and it is often held in high regard as the saviour of all things digital. It promises to revolutionize business, both big and small. It promises to keep everything running, accessible, and in sync 247, 365 days a year. There is no downtime in the Cloud. There is no data loss in the Cloud. The Cloud can do anything.

Well, not so much. First off, let’s get what the Cloud really is out of the way. The Cloud is simply the Internet. Sorry to disappoint you, but there’s nothing dark or mysterious about it.

Cloud services are nothing new either. Hotmail was first launched in 1996, and it was a web-based e-mail client that lets you store your e-mail online and access it from anywhere you have an Internet connection. It was a Cloud-based e-mail service.

So if the Cloud has been around for years in one form or another, why is it now getting so much attention?

The reason is that the world is going mobile—with people owning computers, smartphones, and tablets. They want to keep their data and applications synced between devices, and the best way to do that is to store it in the Cloud and access it from whatever device they happen to be using at the time.

With last week’s release of Windows 8, you can now use your Windows Live account to log in to your computer, and all your e-mail, contacts, photos, and such will just sync to your computer.

Since we’re up here in Canada, you would expect that your data would be stored on Microsoft’s servers located in Canada. While I can’t say where the data is stored, but even if the data is stored on Canadian-based servers, the USA Patriot Act can still require Microsoft to hand that data over to the US Government—without informing you at all.

Services running in the Cloud are expected to be accessible anytime from anywhere. Hurricane Sandy proved that that isn’t the case. When key datacenters in New York City couldn’t keep the lights on due to flooded basements and fuel pumps, the availability of some websites and Cloud-based services were affected.

So if you were working on a term paper due that Friday and it was only stored on the Cloud, then you would be in a real dilemma if you couldn’t access it from Monday until Thursday.

There’s no doubt that the availability of Cloud-based services will further become integrated into our daily lives in the future. I’m not saying that you should avoid them; I’m just saying that you should understand the risks involved and plan accordingly.

This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse

This article was also featured in “Nelson Literacy 10”, Newfoundland and Labrador, Homegrown - Nelson Education Ltd high school textbook.

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