What is, The Cloud?
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
We often hear about the Cloud, but do we really know what it is? You probably guessed it, when we talk about Cloud storage, our information is not actually sent to a real cloud in the sky.
The cloud actually refers to a network made up of many interconnected servers across the planet that act as a gigantic storage system. When we back up data to the Cloud, it feels like it's on our devices because it's available almost in real time. In reality, this data is accessible by connecting to a server via the Internet.
The name of this storage system comes from the fact that the servers where the data is saved are not directly visible to us, as if hidden by a cloud.
When you access your emails or even a movie streaming platform like Netflix, you are not downloading the content to your devices, but rather connecting to the server where it is stored. These are common use cases of the Cloud.
The advent of the cloud being quite recent in the history of the Internet, we previously used other techniques to save data: floppy disks, CDs, USB keys, hard disks, etc.
However, this type of equipment could be corrupted, lost, broken or simply not have enough storage capacity. Thanks to the Cloud, your documents, videos or photos are not lost if your devices are no longer functional, because you only need an internet connection to find them.
Apart from the many file formats that the Cloud can store, it is also possible to host services such as web applications or software.
The Cloud has many other advantages:
You no longer need to sacrifice cherished memories in order to free up space on your devices over time.
Cost saving is improved as you no longer need to pay double the price for a device that will have enough space for your data.
You pay for what you need. Cloud services offer pay-as-you-go storage plans. Thus, individuals and businesses can increase or decrease the storage space according to the variation of their needs.
If a software requires a lot of computing power, hosting it in the Cloud will allow your organization to reduce its costs by paying according to its use, which can be variable. This is especially useful for small and medium-sized businesses that may not have the resources and technical skills to purchase and manage servers on-premises.
Your resources, whether files or applications, are available from anywhere and from many different devices. Thus, you can access your data from your office or your home, from a computer or a mobile phone, at any time.
Two types of Cloud computing systems are available : the private Cloud and the public Cloud.
In the case of the private cloud, the organization has its own servers and employs qualified personnel to manage them, as well as set up remote connections for authorized employees. Thus, only the authorized personnel can connect to the organization’s cloud and access the data saved on the remote servers.
The public Cloud is the most common form of Cloud computing system because it does not require skilled personnel and generates lower costs. This system is based on a business relationship with a service provider who has many servers on which we can host our data and services. This form of Cloud service is more suitable for individuals as well as small and medium-sized businesses. Among the many providers offering public cloud services, the best known are Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, etc.
Although the Cloud provides many advantages, it also has its disadvantages that should not be underestimated:
Like everything that depends on an internet connection, the Cloud is vulnerable to many cyberattacks. According to a 2019 report by McAfee, 21% of files backed up to the Cloud contain sensitive data. Cybercriminals thus target Cloud computing services and manage to get their hands on this confidential data.
Dependence on the internet can make access to data more difficult because if a network connection is not available, what is stored on remote servers cannot be accessed.
The problem also arises for data synchronization because if a device does not have an internet connection, it will not be able to transfer files or any other data to remote servers.
The different Cloud computing services are not all compatible with each other because they are often competitors. Thus, when an organization does business with a Cloud provider, it risks becoming dependent on it because exporting its data to another provider is likely to be a long and manual process. For example, we cannot sync data backed up to Google Drive with Amazon's AWS services.
To protect against Cloud-related risks, several security measures can be implemented:
Doing business with a cloud service that offers encryption. This way, your data will be encrypted on your devices, in the cloud, as well as during transit from one to another, to prevent criminals from intercepting it.
Be sure to read service contracts and user agreements so you know what the cloud provider will do with your data. This will allow you to know the protection measures applied to your information and ensure that it will not be sold to third parties.
Apply best practices in terms of passwords. Passwords for your Cloud services should be strong and unique.
Enable double authentication. This method will require a second means of authentication after entering your password. This way, even if a malicious person obtains your password, they will not be able to log in without entering the additional information sent to you.
Avoid saving sensitive information to the Cloud. Whether it's confidential personal data like your employees' social insurance numbers or your organization's financial reports, it's a good idea to avoid saving this data to the Cloud, where it could be extracted by criminals. If cloud backup is necessary, make sure any sensitive data is strongly encrypted.
As with many technologies there are both pros and cons to Cloud computing. However, by taking precautions to protect yourself, your data and therefore your organization, you will be better prepared to take advantage of all of the benefits Cloud computing has to offer.