What is cloud computing? Basically, cloud computer was first envisioned by John McCarthy in 1960 who believed that in the future computing power would be sold much as how electricity is sold by a public utility. The biggest benefit would be for large corporations whom would not need to run certain business applications in house, but rather could farm out these digital processing jobs for a certain fee to an outside company. With the advent of the internet and server farms owned by large corporations such as Microsoft, cloud computing appears to have arrived. At least for the large company that doesn’t want to spend capital to buy the required hardware themselves.
Large corporations such as Amazon noted that they had large excess computer capacity and utilized perhaps only ten percent of the computing power on most occassions, but keep the extra computing power in reserve for use during peak business periods. If companies were allowed to buy computing power when they needed it, it would eliminate the cost of maintaining hardware, as well as other overhead costs.
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Negatives about Cloud Computing
I first heard about cloud computing perhaps a decade ago, only it wasn’t called cloud computer in the popular press at the time. The oracles of the computer world believed that in the not-so-distant future home personal computers would be more like terminals which log into a centralized computing system which provided the muscle and run the application, such as a web browser or word processors, and also served as a place to store files. While this has some advantages, such that a person could in theory access their files from anywhere in the world, and pay only a fee for how often an application was used instead of the retail price, it seemed somewhat un-American to me, or at least very non-western. Almost as though it was a direct analogy to the centralized planning of former communist regimes. Some Americans want to have total access to their files and their applications on their own computer, and don’t want to have to worry about relying on some centralized computer.
Would a centralized computing system be safer against data loss? Most IT professionals recommend that you should back up your personal data on a optical disc for the ocassion when your personal computer crashes, not if, but when. So for me the idea that information is somehow safer on a centralized system is a non-starter.
What about being able to access your data anywhere in the world? The miracle that allows this to occur is the internet, not cloud computing per se. You can access your data on your computer if it is connected to the internet, although this may introduce some security risks. In fact, the software exists today for you to be able to access the files on your computer from anywhere in the world. Nowadays, files can be easily transfered on flash drives and other portable medium, so this is much less of a positive in the world of personal computing than in the past. However, for busy working professionals, such as structural engineers working on a new bridge design, the ability to have immediate access to large and complex files manipulated by sophisticated software anywhere in the world is a plus.
Security is another issue when the brains and memory of your computer are stored miles away. A dedicated hacker, or disgruntled employee, could easily target such data farms and copy millions of files of personal information and sell them on the black market. No doubt this may be done one day if it hasn’t already happened. Personal computers are also vulnerable to hackers, but the career criminal may go after the big banks of information stored at commercial data farms, rather than individually hacking personal computers. If I want to have a personal computer that I use to store personal financial information, then I could easily do this by buying a $600 laptop and simply disabling the Wi-Fi so that it never connects to the internet, thus greatly decresing the risk of hacking.
For these reasons, I think that cloud computing has great advantages in certain specific areas of the corporate world, but much less so in the everyday personal computing and small business world. In addition, personal computing power has increased significantly, so much so that future notebook computers such as subsequent versions of the iSlate being produced by Apple may be able to store dozens or even hundreds of movies on solid state memory, thus largely reducing the need for cloud computing on a personal computing level.
Downloading songs and movies via commercial services such as the iTunes store has become ingrained in the American concious as the same as buying something. Somehow it doesn’t feel the same to buy a file, such as a movie, and have it sit on some data farm that I can’t access if I got out of range of working Wi-Fi. If you have a file on your computer then you have access to it if you have power and your computer is working independent of your current internet connectivity.
In resource poor settings, such as developing countries, opportunities for using cloud computing could involve the use of low-cost solar powered netbooks which allow access to vast database of information, which could include practical information such as weather, information about infectious disease outbreaks, and even HIV/AIDS education.
While data farms owned by large corporations such as Google and Microsoft are trying to expand their business selling memory, there is always the risk that due to a faulty internet connection you may not be able to get to your data when you need it most. While this maybe OK for family movies which have been digitized, you may not work to put your work online, especially if you work under tight deadlines.