What is the Cloud?

what is the cloud?
What an actual “cloud” may look like

While the term “cloud computing” originated in 1996, we started hearing it more often around 2006. People started talking about “cloud computing” as the next big thing. With the advent of smartphones, we started using the term even more often as people started uploading or backing data up “to the cloud.”

What is the cloud?

As one of my IT security friends puts it, “There is no such thing as the cloud. Just someone else’s computer.” And that’s what it boils down to. The cloud is generally used to refer to storing something “on the internet,” but in reality, “on the internet” means a physical server somewhere else, rather than on your own computer’s hard drive or your local network.

What is the cloud good for?

Often, people back up data like photos to the cloud. If you have an iPhone, for example, your photos may automatically sync from your phone to Apple’s online storage area associated with your phone. Backing up your data to the cloud is a good idea because it means you have a copy of your data “off site” – somewhere besides where your originals are located. If your phone is lost, stolen, or broken, or your computer hard drive crashes, your photos are safe. (Ask anyone who’s lost photos of their kids whether they regret not having made backups!) The same is true for all of your important files.

If you’re sharing data among colleagues, you may also do that on a cloud-based service. This allows any of your coworkers to access the data, because it is in a shared location, rather than being stuck in one person’s computer. For example, Google Drive is a common way teams share or work together on collaborative documents, and Dropbox is a common backup storage solution for distributed or remote-work teams.

You may also use cloud-based email, which means you can access it from your computer, your tablet, or your phone. You’re not limited to using just one device for accessing your emails as you could be if you downloaded all of your emails to one device without leaving copies on the server.

It’s likely you use all kinds of other “cloud” services – sites like Facebook or Twitter, or web-based “software as a service” like content relationship management services like Zoho are all examples of applications based in the cloud.

Is the cloud secure?

If you store your data on the cloud, naturally you want to know if your data is secure. What keeps anyone else from accessing it? This brings us back to the point of “someone else’s computer.” The security of your data depends on who owns the cloud and the security measures they have in place. Apple, Google, and Dropbox are some of the big names in this area. What kind of security do they offer? Alphr has some answers here.

Remember that humans are the weakest link in security chains. If you fall victim to a phishing scam, your data will be at risk, no matter which service you use, so education is your best data protection strategy. Learn about the scams that exist and how you can protect your information.

TrustRadius says, “Features you shouldn’t settle on including advanced firewall protection, data encryption, event logging, and threat detection. You also want to make sure that the cloud storage provider you work with provides details into how they manage their data centers and keep them secure.”

Before you rush to put your data on the cloud, make sure you understand your service provider’s security policies, and your own company’s policies and obligations with respect to GDPR, HIPAA, or other data or privacy laws you may be subject to. Consider whether the data you want to store online needs to be accessible by others, and learn how to use your cloud service provider’s security settings, like who can access the files.

Is it safe to use the cloud to store backups?

One key principle of data backup systems is redundancy. Does your cloud backup provider practice redundancy? If your only copy of your data is with your cloud backup provider, what happens if they lose that data?

As an example, in March 2021, European web hosting provider OVH was the victim of a fire in one of their datacenters. Due to the fire that destroyed some of the servers, many websites went offline. OVH asked businesses to activate their Disaster Recovery Plans. It’s not clear whether OVH backed up client data or practiced redundancy for clients hosting websites with them, but some clients say they lost a large amount of data.

For some hosts, backing up your data is a separate paid service, not included in website hosting. A high-quality host should have redundancy in any case, and ensure those backups are stored on a different server, in a different physical location than the main data. That would allow them to restore a large percentage of lost client data as part of their own disaster recovery plan.

Whether you use your hosting provider’s backup services or not, we recommend you use as many backup options as possible and reasonable for your website. Updraft Plus allows for multiple backup locations and connects to various cloud services to store those backups. You may also opt to keep a local backup you refresh on a regular basis. If your site doesn’t change often, monthly backups may be sufficient. If your site changes more often, you should consider increasing the frequency to every week, or every few days, or in some cases, even daily.


Disclaimer: Some links in this post may be affiliate links, and we may make some small commission if you sign up using these links. But we only recommend services we actually use and appreciate.


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Alisa Cognard

Alisa was one of the first team members to join Red Earth Design, Inc. in early 2004. From data entry, she progressed to MySQL database manipulation and PHP coding. Alisa is responsible for all kinds of odds and ends: installing new websites, adding features to them, programming databases, PHP coding, website troubleshooting, website security, and organizational tasks for Red Earth Design.

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