Cloud computing may seem like a high-in-the-sky concept to the less tech-aware, but the term represents a very tangible trend sweeping the world of information technology.
The basic difference between traditional computer servers and cloud computing is often described as the difference between maintaining computer hardware and leasing computer services.
With the old system, users would have to buy, maintain and update their own software and servers to perform computing tasks. For large organizations, this usually means huge expenses.
But with cloud computing those same functions—such as email, word processing and file storage—are taken off the user’s hardware and instead generally offered by an outside company as a service accessible to consumers via the Web. In this scenario, the cloud provider then takes up the burden of storing and maintaining the users’ information in their own data centers, meaning the same information is stored on company servers located across the U.S. and sometimes abroad. They then spread out computing workloads and across these information technology centers in a way that maximizes efficiency.
The trend is not just for big businesses; it has hit the consumer world, too, with applications such as Gmail and GoogleDocs.
Government agencies are hoping to benefit from the cost savings, scalability and collaboration cloud computing offers. But it also raises questions about whether the U.S. government might be ceding the ownership, accessibility, security and privacy of its records to unknown companies and other countries.