From Google Docs to Dropbox, moving into the cloud today is as easy as ever. Whether you are a business owner, writer, homemaker or student, migrating “into the cloud” is the next logical frontier for managing everyday living and for many folks, is already a reality and they do not even know it! From finances to client relations, research to reporting, cloud computing today allows for a person to “live” entirely independent of their individual pc and or laptop, yet have access to all necessary daily activities that transact on your personal computer.
Cloud computing is best described by the authors of the article, ‘A View of Cloud Computing’ from Communications of the ACM Vol. 53 No. 4, Pages 50-58 10.1145/1721654.1721672:
“Cloud computing refers to both the applications delivered as services over the Internet and the hardware and systems software in the data centers that provide those services.”
Currently, the ability for companies, large and small, to provision servers to run highly specific operations using hardware, that not even 10 years ago would have been out of reach due to capital constraints, can be harnessed in a matter of minutes for mere cents per hour. This has provided a vast number of enterprises to enter into the world of software as a service with the result of providing end users with an almost infinite supply of web-based applications to solve common tasks, such as:
- list making
- personal finances
- business finances
- gaming / entertainment
- email / correspondence
- friendships / family relations
And the list goes on and on. For the everyday person, cloud computing provides the ability to operate independently of the machine you use and the benefits derived continue to grow.
Why Should I Go Into The Cloud?
Imagine this - you go to turn on your laptop or pc and you have a hard-drive failure. The data on your machine is now corrupt and inaccessible. Think to yourself, what have you lost and what would it take to recover it? Are all of your digital photos stored locally, are they backed up to an external hard-drive, or do they reside on a third party website such as Kodak or Picasa? In any case, you suddenly feel the gut-wrenching effect of having NOT moved into the cloud, as it becomes clear that anything of importance stored on your local drive is now gone.
The ability to rely on a third party, web-based application provider, in the case of a local hardware failure, can be a life saver. Digital photographs from special events, if stored in your Picasa web album for instance, would be accessible from any pc, so long as you remember your login. The same goes for drafting important research and or writing - again, there are times when hardware simply does not cooperate and as such, it makes sense to draft and store important works in a safe place, such as a folder or drive that is not local, but rather “in the cloud” or using a web-based office application such as Google Docs. Better yet, what if inspiration strikes and all you have is your iPhone or iPad? That’s easy - just type up your thoughts in the notepad and email it to yourself, or type it directly into a Google document to work on later.
Going on vacation? If you are in the cloud and something comes up at the office that needs tending to, all you need is a machine and internet access (yea for your boss, boo for your vacation!). No need to lug around a laptop these days as many hotels and even cruise ships have tech centers that you can access. And for you techies out there - you know full well of the advantages of having complex algorithms computing on a machine that can handle it, and not using all of your resources on your local desktop.
Is It All Good?
Now that is not to say that cloud computing, or living “in the cloud”, is not without fault. There are some caveats from moving into the cloud:
Online Identity Theft - It is important to keep account access information secure. Recent breaches in security at large institutions, such as the Epsilon incident, can expose users to identity theft if tactics such as email phishing. Also, try to observe the notion of a different password for every login. This is difficult, for even the most tech savvy, but it is critical in preventing your online persona from being hacked.
Third Party Data & Access Issues - There is always the potential that even some of the most robust and secure applications can suffer a snafu of sorts, such as what happened with access to email and data for a small portion of Gmail users just a few weeks ago. The good news is, many cloud services have robust and sophisticated data backup processes and systems to ensure your data is maintained, even if access to it is temporarily unavailable.
Cost - Many online services are not free and may incur a monthly or annual service fee. A practice that is widely used is the free, reduced service model for an application (think the App Store) with only premium services / packages incurring a charge.
Other issues include, for example, local internet access speed and integrity of data storage by cloud services vendor (i.e. where is my data being stored and who has access to it?).
How Do I Go Into The Cloud?
Cloud computing for the everyday person should be looked upon as simply ‘being able to continue my life without the machine in front of me’. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is and with the right mix of tools and web-based applications, this can become a reality. I’ve highlighted some of my favorites for both personal and professional use:
- Financial - Mint.com - www.mint.com (free)
- Banking - Almost all banks offer online access; if not, change banks (essentially free)
- Email - www.gmail.com - Google does it best (even despite the issue linked above), and even if you already have an email account somewhere else, set up a Google account and manage your email through its interface. Not only will you reduce spam, but sorting and searching through historical emails becomes easy
- Friendships / Friend-Making - This is easy: Facebook (or Twitter) have almost become the norm in online interpersonal relations
- Eating / Dining - Restaurant.com offers information for just about any restaurant, as well as good deals. Another of course is Zagat.com. But if you wanted to stay in and cook, cooking.com offers the ability to store favorite recipes as well as rate and store your personal favorites.
- Life Suggestions - Lifehacker.com offers up a medly of ways to make your life simple, and just plain ol fun.
- Homemaking - The defacto winner in this category must be Better Homes and Gardens. From recipes to drapes, they make homemaking easy.
- Data Storage and File Management - DropBox is easy to use and works just like any other file folder on your desktop
- Financial Management and Accounting - Online access to QuickBooks and a host of other financial and accounting services can be setup easily with Intuit - www.intuit.com ($39 per month)
- Google Docs- Essentially free; $50 per email address per year for Google apps Premier Edition
- Freshbooks - If you want to “Love Invoicing”, use Freshbooks. While technically it replicates some of the functionality of Intuit’s Quickbooks, it’s infinitely easy to use and understand
- Networking - LinkedIn continues to improve and expand upon its networking social media platform and provides a centralized way to communicate with other professionals
As you move into the cloud, a good first place to start is by immediately changing how you save important files and transitioning to a web-based backup folder such as Dropbox. The good news is, this service is free with limited storage and you get more storage if you refer friends to use the service as well. Not only are you secure with the knowledge that your files are safely stored, you can also access them from where ever you are regardless of what type of hardware you use to access them - so long as you have an Internet connection and access to a web browser.
The next step is to begin assessing what you do on your primary computer and how much of it is done online and offline. Often times people will not even bother with seeing if there is a web based application that replicates the same functions performed on their machine, or the last time they looked the technology wasn’t available. Routinely accessing what is available and seeing how to migrate to a web solution can work to your advantage and save yourself time and in many cases, provide added capabilities that you did not have before. Just keep in mind that your goal is to be able to pick up where you left off on something and resume those activities at your next stop.
I have been in the cloud for a few years - saving a ton of storage space now that I no longer have to store old financial statements and invoices, as well as the corresponding plastic bins they are housed in. For my business, the migration into the cloud has been more difficult, but manageable. At the present, we have managed to migrate almost all of the software that we need to operate smoothly to something web-based, such as QuickBooks Online for business finances and Google docs for drafting proposals and documentation. New York State having embraced the web has been a blessing as well now that most tax filings are done electronically and on a Federal level, there is much improvement that has been made for tax filing and preparation.
There are still several applications that we love using and are essential to our business, such as Adobe Photoshop and Panic’s Coda, that are client side, but overall the migration has been exceptionally productive. We also still find the need for an office suite for longer documents and spreadsheet analysis and switch between MS Office and iWork but despite this, I can run our business from just about any pc at anytime and anywhere. From invoicing to website maintenance updates to tax needs, we are almost entirely in the cloud. I can login to any machine in our office and at home and pick up where I left off and not miss a beat.
So go ahead and embrace living in the cloud. There is a good chance that you are mostly there.The journey into the cloud, while intimidating and confusing at first, is easy to do and you will soon begin to wonder how you managed life outside of the cloud before.