The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
A newsletter reader recently posted a comment about some articles I have written explaining why the cloud is good for genealogy and for many other purposes. The newsletter reader protested, "You constantly tout that cloud storage is much more secure than local device based storage. Yet, we constantly hear about celebrities, companies and national and state governments whose files have been hacked and published."
Yes, indeed, there have been major security problems with government and corporate data servers. However, these problems usually do not occur on cloud computing services. The problems all arose (to my knowledge) from hackers accessing old-fashioned servers in data centers, not from true cloud services that use encryption. The cloud is not the same thing as a server in a data center.
To be sure, cloud computing is not radically different from single servers. Instead, the thing generally called "the cloud" is an outgrowth, or advancement, of single servers. Many enhancements have been added to the concept of single servers, and improved security is one of the enhancements that is usually included. In most cases, a cloud-based service provides much higher security than does a single server or a group of servers in a data center. Improved security isn't automatic; the company providing the cloud services must add security to the service. However, given the large number of servers involved in a cloud service, improved security is almost always included.
The US government apparently still uses many servers that are not cloud-based and are vulnerable to attacks from hackers around the world. Many corporations do the same. Use of cloud technology isn’t a perfect solution but it is far better than running single servers or even groups of servers in a non-cloud environment, the way that all companies and government agencies did a few years ago.
Cloud computing means that, instead of using the power of your desktop computer, or the power of a server somewhere inside your company's network, the computing power is provided for you as a service, often provided by another company, and is accessed over the Internet, usually in a completely seamless way. Exactly where the hardware and software is located and how it all works doesn't matter to you, the user—it's just somewhere in the nebulous "cloud" that the Internet represents.
NOTE: Many large corporations, the US military, and some others create their own privately-owned clouds. However, individuals and most small to medium-sized businesses contract cloud services from third-party vendors, such as from Amazon Web Services, Apple, Cisco, Citrix, IBM, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace, Salesforce.com, Verizon, and other cloud service providers.
Cloud computing is a buzzword that means different things to different people. For some, it's just another way of describing IT (information technology) "outsourcing"; others use it to mean any computing service provided over the Internet or a similar network; and some define it as any bought-in computer service you use that sits outside your firewall. However we define cloud computing, the normal definition of "the cloud" is data processing services provided by banks of servers, often located in multiple data centers around the world.
In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer's hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. However, that simplistic explanation does not provide any clues concerning the increased security available with most cloud-based services.
One major difference is the cloud is not a single server in a remote data center. Just because you access a service online on the Internet does not mean you are accessing a cloud service. If your employer owns one mail server and it is installed in the company's data center, that mail service is not running in the cloud. In contrast, Google's Gmail service runs on thousands of mail servers that are located in a dozen or more data centers around the world. The various data centers constantly back up the information in the other data centers. If any one server or even if one entire data center goes offline for some reason, the backup servers located in the other data centers around the world will take over and continue normal operation within seconds. The user sees little or no interruption.
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