The Cloud? What Exactly is it?

What exactly is the cloud, and where is it? We always hear this word being thrown around to explain how our "stuff" is stored, like our pictures in iCloud or our documents in Google Drive or OneDrive. If you have ever watched Netflix, Hulu, or any other streaming service, then you most definitely have used the cloud, but what does that mean?

In simple terms, the cloud is a metaphor for an intangible ecosystem of servers where you can store and access your data and applications from anywhere over the internet instead of locally on your computer. That still sounds slightly complicated. We'll take Instagram as our first example.

We use Instagram to upload, like, and comment on pictures. When uploading a picture on Instagram, you'll open the Instagram application on your phone. The application is called the client. In the cloud, there is the cloud-based application Instagram that's working in the background when you upload that picture. First, it authenticates you (logging into Instagram) by going to the identity store (also located in the cloud). This store has a list of every single person who has an insta account to confirm your identity. Once your identity is confirmed, it authorizes you to to upload your picture wherever and whenever through the client.

Another example is when you access your email, which is the same process. You'll start by going to Gmail, for example. That website is simply the interface (what you see) for the Google web cloud-based application. In the background and the cloud, the Google web app first authenticates you (logging in to Gmail) with the identity store's help. Then, it authorizes you to send an email, for example, or whatever else you do in Gmail like accessing your Google Calendar!

The Cloud is a powerful tool that truly allows you to access your data from anywhere as long as you have access to the internet. From a single computer or phone, you can access your email and Google Calendar, binge-watch all seasons of Parks and Recreation and upload a picture of the bread you baked!


Image by Adi Goldstein