Living on Cloud 9: What does “The Cloud” offer average home users?

If you’ve been watching any TV for the past couple of years then you’ve no doubt heard of the concept of “The Cloud” where Internet services and computer applications are concerned. I do this kind of stuff for a living so I’ve been both hearing about it for a long time, now, and hearing about it in great detail. Though Microsoft and Amazon have been pushing their cloud services somewhat toward the home user crowd, there’s not been any real significant adoption of these services by home users beyond some very simple file-sharing and music applications. So, what’s up with the Cloud and what can you get out of it these days?

When home PC’s were first coming into general market use, the software that people would use on them had to be installed on the PC itself. Microsoft (MS) Office, for example, had to be purchased and installed on a computer-by-computer basis. If you and your spouse both had your own PC’s and you both wanted to be able to use Word then you had to buy 2 copies of the software and install them individually on the 2 computers. You could share files, sure, but you couldn’t run your copy of the application on their computer. They had to be running their own copy. The more likely scenario was that you had the full Office suite installed on your work computer. You could bring the files home to work on if you saved them to a floppy disk but unless you’d bought the program yourself then that was pretty useless.

Between the rise of web-based applications and high-speed Internet connections, it became possible to deploy an application of some kind on a web server and then simply access it from any PC with a web browser. If you have an account to Ancestry.com, then you’re familiar with this. The application – the database, file store, and research tools – exist on Ancestry’s servers, not on your PC. If you have an account then you can do research from your home PC and access the same information later on from work. The Ancestry service existed out on the Internet, in some floating somewhere that someone finally coined as “the Cloud.” Virtually all web-accessed services such as TurboTax Online, your local DMV, and such are deployed in this way and can be thought of as being part of the Cloud.

Cloud services are evolving, now to the point where services other than simple lookup and iTunes are being offered. Not only is the application out there in the Cloud but so, too, is the data you use and create. MS Office 360, Amazon Cloud Drive, and other such data-storage locations have now taken the need to actually download the data files to your PC out of the equation. MS OneNote, an notebook application that’s part of Office, now defaults to creating and storing your notebook out in the Cloud rather than on your PC. (I resisted doing this for a while, until I was required by work to use multiple laptops and tablets for various purposes. Having my OneNote file in our private Cloud lets me always access my updated notes regardless of which device I’m using.)

The Cloud is now offering system management capabilities to the home user. Linksys offers a Cloud-management app to permit a user to control their home networking without have to be on site and connected to their home router. DropCam is a company that simplifies the deployment and operation of home video-monitoring systems. OpenDNS takes a network function – URL name/address resolution – out of your local router and moves it to the Cloud, permitting home users to have the kind of network monitoring and content control capacity that was reserved to corporate networks in the past.

Securing these services is going to be of increasing concern, especially when you have more and more services aimed at the home user. Our corporate networks have armies of trained professionals supporting them where the average home user is pretty much on his own. Even so, it’s a development that’s only going to get more common as time goes on.

FYI, I’m actually using OpenDNS for our household and I’ve been generally pleased with it. I’ll be posting a more in-depth report on that in a few days.

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