What is the cloud (and how I used it)

By | January 5, 2016
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Happy New Year!  I hope you had a good one.  Mine was pretty tame – but then, with two small boys I wasn’t planning any late night wild parties (they might have been, but as far as I know they didn’t manage to sneak out in the night)…

It’s hard to believe it’s 2016… but then I’m not sure I’ve quite adjusted to the year starting with a 20 instead of 19 yet!

In fact I’ve been away from home for a bit until this weekend – staying down at Mum and Dad’s.  I was still able to send the last email newsletter as I can do that from anywhere in the world, whether I’ve taken my laptop with me or by borrowing someone else’s computer.

That’s one of the advantages of “cloud computing”.  Which made me think – has anyone ever explained exactly what “the cloud” is to you?

You hear it from time to time: cloud computing, cloud software, the cloud… but exactly what does it mean?

Well, it’s talking about a way of working where the programs you’re using and your data (documents, emails, photos… whatever it is you’re working on) aren’t stored on your computer.  They’re actually stored on some servers (ie fast PCs) owned by the company whose system you’re using.

For example if you use Google Docs to type a letter, your letter is actually stored on Google’s servers.  It’ll be stored on several, so if one has a problem, it doesn’t matter.

And not just the letter, but the program you’re using to write it is on their computer, too – you access it through a web page.

Cloud software is just programs that work like this – stored on a server somewhere.
The cloud is just all this data and programs that are stored on a server somewhere.
And cloud computing just means working this way.

In the case of my email newsletter from last time, I use a program that actually runs on a server somewhere else to write the emails – and the email is sent from that server.  So I don’t need my own personal PC to even be turned on, I can use Mum and Dad’s or any other computer (or even a tablet like an iPad) to write it.

In a nutshell, the cloud is just stuff you store online and the programs you use that are based online, on someone else’s PC called a server.

So now when people talk about the cloud, you’ll know what they mean!

17 thoughts on “What is the cloud (and how I used it)

  1. Paul Lavery

    How good is the Security on these sites that have this Cloud technology and would you recommend a particular site. Is there a cost.

    1. Tim Post author

      It depends on exactly what you want to do – I use Google Docs (at http://www.docs.google.com) which is free for personal use and I’m convinced the security is pretty solid (I’d never say any security is perfect, but the site is probably more secure than your PC itself).
      For general use (letters, documents, spreadsheets) I’d probably recommend Google Docs – though if you’re already used to MS Office and Excel, there is an online version of them which might be quicker to get used to.

  2. Mary Steventon

    Hello there Tim, Happy New Year to you too.

    Particularly on mobile technology, when it gets too crowded I am advised to save it to the cloud. That’s fine, I’ll save photos etc., on to the cloud. But how do I retrieve them if and when necessary?

    Thank you


    1. Tim Post author

      It does depend on what type of device you’re using and what apps you have set up, but on a lot of phones and tablets, if you want to get them back on the same device, it just has an option in the same place as you get the photos that you’ve stored on your device – there’s a folder called something like “cloud” or sometimes “all” (as opposed to “stored on device”) that shows them and you can tap and hold on one photo (or folder of photos) and choose “download to device” from the menu that pops up. They do all work slightly differently, though…

  3. Liz

    Hi there Tim, happy new year to you and yours.

    I use the cloud storage with One Drive and Google Drive and find it very secure, no problems .
    Tim, your usual Monday morning e-mail came in twice , the usual on the 21st and same on 23rd of December, just thought i’d mention it.

    Than you.

    1. Tim Post author

      Happy new Year!
      Thanks for letting me know – it happened to a few people as I was tinkering with settings to make sure the emails get through (some people on TalkTalk have been having problems getting them) and accidentally clicked on the button for the newsletter I’d already sent… I stopped it straight away but obviously some emails had already gone out for the second time! I blame it on the after effects of all the cheese and wine…

  4. Jack Luxon

    I’ve been using Dropbox for quite some time now and find it very handy. Having referred others I’ve built up a capacity of 12 Gbyte, only 25% used as yet. I find the ability to ‘share’ folders very useful, in my case to have a ‘common’ folder devoted to family history which all sharers can contribute to, or simply view. One problem with sharing is that if any sharer deletes something it’s gone BUT one brilliant aspect is that the ‘owner’ of the folder will see a notification that something untoward may have happened and can use the Dropbox facility of ‘restoring’ what was lost provided this is carried out within 30 days.
    I think many would be interested in seeing a report on the pros and cons of the various ‘Cloud’ storage available.
    As for using programmes in the Cloud, I haven’t needed to venture into that territory yet, I simply use the programmes on my PC and ‘save’ work into the appropriate folder, of which I have 147, within the Dropbox folder.
    Although I do have an ‘image’ copy of my hard disc on my external USB drive which I update after installing new programmes, I don’t bother with regular backups as all the stuff in my working folders are up to date in the ‘cloud’.
    I am not into tablets or so-called smart phones so I am in no position to comment on benefits, or otherwise, of using Dropbox with these machines.

    1. Steep

      I use Dropbox on an iPad and find it no different to using it on any other computer. It is a useful App for the transfer of data dated between devices.

  5. Kathleen Fell

    Hi Tim – Happy New Year to you too. Call me old fashioned if you want but my thought is that if my personal docs are just here at home on my PC they are safer than if they are on a “cloud” somewhere and less likely to be read by cloud users?!
    All the best for 2016
    From A Conistonian!

    1. Tim Post author

      I suppose security falls into two types – avoiding the risk of losing the documents if (say) something crashes badly and avoiding the risk of someone else getting at it.
      The risk of losing it is probably lower on the cloud as it’ll actually have several copies stored on identical servers and if something gets deleted or corrupted, you can “restore” and earlier version.
      (Though if it’s important you can always backup your copy on your own PC anyway.)
      But the risk of someone else getting it is maybe higher if it’s stored on the cloud – I only say maybe because it depends on how secure your own PC is – if I was a bad guy trying to hack into people’s documents I’d probably look for computers that weren’t properly protected with security software rather than try to get into cloud storage.
      Of course, it’s horses for courses anyway – you should use what works for you!
      Hope you didn’t get hit by the floods too badly in Coniston – we got away lightly down here in Millom but it’s heartbreaking seeing places like Kendal and Keswick.

  6. Roger Cawte

    When I was working we used a cloud. All went well until one day the cloud decided to die. The ‘luddites’ who had stored working files on their PC’s could still work, the rest could not. It took two days to solve and the filing had never been so up to date! I also have some cloud based programs that no longer work as they have been upgraded and I don’t want to pay as much as they now charge.
    Sorry, I see the advantages but still don’t trust it.

    1. Tim Post author

      I can certainly see how that would put you off! Funnily enough, before I left to write and publish these books, when I worked at another publishing company, nearly everyone was adamant that we should store files on a central server and work across the network. The server wouldn’t even be in the same building as everyone as they had several offices in the area. I stopped it happening because I wasn’t confident in the network never going down – and the files we were working with were huge book files, with lots of illustrations in.
      When I left I they switched – and have since had a few times when all their editors have been sat around waiting for it to be fixed… (Once the problem was a seagull building a nest on the transmitter!)
      On the other hand I happily use Google Docs – I think the difference is I’m more confident in Google’s system because of all the duplication – if their servers in one building go down you wouldn’t even notice as they have several set ups scattered around.
      It still all depends on your internet connection, though, and if you lose that, you can’t access anything that’s only on the cloud (although I could always work from home in that case), so for really important documents I’d always want a backup on my PC.
      And we still don’t store book files on the cloud, so the editors can still work even if the internet goes down.

  7. Tommy T

    Ref. Last point by Roger resonated with me.
    I am still a bit reticent about using the cloud as my feeling is however much data you get “free”, with the pace of change it will run out and the company has the got you in its talons: kindly helping out by selling you more at a very reasonable price which will be gradually and inevitably ratchet up until you think it not worthwhile. And then what? How easy will it be to recover all your data to the relative safety of your PC? As well as being bombarded by offers from associated partners in the meantime.
    I am on Amazon Prime and so have “free” limitless cloud storage but even this, I feel will at some stage incur charges for some extra or the storage itself.


    1. Tim Post author

      Maybe – it’s hard to tell exactly what will happen. For most things stored on the cloud in most cloud systems, it wouldn’t be too hard to download them all to your computer again if you wanted.
      But I suspect for ordinary users, there’ll probably always be a free option – it’s a cheap way of them marketing their service and then heavy users (mostly businesses or freelance professionals) will use that particular service because that’s what they’re used to.
      But I’ve been wrong before, so it might well not work out like that! And it’s horses for courses – using cloud services is great for some people, but for others there’s not much point. It’s all about what works for you.

  8. John Turner

    Hi Tim
    I have just written a complicated email and my PC decided to close down so I will ask my question simply!
    I have an Apple iPad, a Samsung mobile and a Toshiba laptop. I have subscribed to Cloud but don’t know how to see my diary on my mobile using my iPad. Have you written any help on this, please?
    P.S. I find your books very good – I am just working through them. And by the way, I am a very senior citizen who likes things explained simply.

    1. Tim Post author

      Not easily, I’m afraid. Apple have used their own ports and plugs and made it so you can’t easily plug in a normal flash drive. I say “not easily” because I wouldn’t say it’s impossible if you had the right kit – but it’d be complicated to rig it all up and it might suddenly stop working when Apple brought out an update as they don’t want this to be possible.
      Probably the best way round it is to plug your ipad into a PC or laptop, if you have one, and copy whatever it is from the ipad to the PC, then from that to the flash drive, or vice versa.


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