The ABC of the cloud
POSTED BY APPANNA GANAPATHY
When you save a file on your PC or laptop, you know exactly where it is: It is on your hard drive, probably in a folder you created for a specific purpose. The file is only on your computer – there is only one copy, unless you email it or save it on a USB or an external hard drive.
If your computer is connected to a server via a local area network, e.g. at the office, you can save a file on the server. It can be accessed by anyone who has permission to do so. This is a valuable backup in case of theft or loss of your computer.
In a technical sense, a server is a computer programme that accepts and responds to requests made by another program, known as the client. The device that runs this server software is also informally known as a server. Servers are used to manage network resources, e.g. a user may set up a server to control access to a network, send and receive email, manage printing or host a website.
The cloud, on the other hand, is basically a network of connected servers usually stored in a massive warehouse guarded by companies such as Google, Apple or Dropbox. When you save a file in the cloud, it can be accessed by any device connected to the cloud network via the internet. You also need to be signed in to the relevant cloud services platform, e.g. Dropbox or Google Drive. For example, as long as you are connected to the internet and signed in, you can access your email from anywhere in the world, on any device that supports the software.
There are certain risks and rewards associated with the cloud. It is quite secure, but nothing is infallible and cybercriminals could gain access to your files by guessing passwords or security questions. Concerns around the privacy of your files depend on the laws in the country where the server is located, but generally speaking, government agencies can legally request information.
On the other hand, files are a lot more secure on the cloud than on your own hard drive. Because cloud servers are housed in huge facilities, away from most employees and heavily guarded, they are far safer than your computer in your study. Additionally, files are encrypted and therefore difficult to access by even the keenest hacker. Malware on your personal computer will expose your information immediately and leave you open to ransomeware threats, while any file that is backed up in the cloud is protected against this.
Storing your data in the cloud is also cost-effective and easy. You can store tons of data in the cloud by simply uploading it, as opposed to keep buying external hard drives or USB sticks to store your files.
A word of wisdom though – if you want to store files containing sensitive data, rather opt for a hard external hard drive not connected to your computer or encrypt the files before you upload it to the cloud, and choose your cloud platform carefully. Use intricate passwords and never use the same password twice. Try to avoid accessing your data from public computers and spread your files over more than one platform.