What is the Cloud: an Introduction?

The cloud is an important buzzword. However, the meaning is not so clear to many people. Nevertheless, there is a good chance that you have already used the cloud, even if you may not have even known it. Instagram, YouTube, and Hotmail? They all use the cloud. In this article, we would like to explain to you what exactly the cloud is. We will discuss how the cloud works. We also discuss the advantages and disadvantages and pay attention to applications.

The definition of the cloud

When tech companies say your data is in the cloud, they mean your data is stored in a network of servers. In other words: the cloud is a network of servers that function as one system. The servers can store data, run applications, and provide services.

Thanks to the cloud, you don't need to have these data, applications, and services locally on your PC. After all, the required information is on the network of cloud servers. All you need is access to get to that network. This access is often via the internet. So you often only have to open your web browser to use information in the cloud.

When we talk about the cloud we are talking about making hardware, and other information accessible via a network – the Internet. The information is not on your own PC, but on servers that are maintained and managed by a cloud provider. As a user, you have access to the information in the cloud via an internet connection.

In summary, by cloud, we mean the use of hardware, and information that is delivered via a network (usually the Internet) and therefore does not have to be stored on your own computer.

The difference with local storage

Normally data is stored on – and used from – your own computer. However, if you work via the cloud, the data is no longer on your own computer. Instead, you access the data (or programs or services) over the Internet. The data is stored on servers (in data centers), which you can access via the Internet.

You can therefore access the data from any device as long as it can connect to the servers, such as your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You are therefore no longer bound to the same location where your data is stored, as you are with data stored on your own computer.

Cloud storage or cloud computing?

Cloud storage is the storing of data on hardware in a remote physical location, which can be accessed from any device over the Internet. You send your data to a server managed by a cloud provider, instead of storing it on your own computer. Dropbox is an example of cloud storage.

Cloud computing is also fundamentally about connecting to remote servers via a network. However, with cloud computing, those servers also include shared computing power. This allows you as a user to use the power of the server network and, for example, you do not have to install the necessary on your computer yourself. Well-known examples of cloud computing are social media such as Facebook and webmail services such as Gmail.

Why is cloud computing important?

Over the past 20 years, cloud computing technology has evolved significantly, so much so that cloud services now account for more than a third of annual business spending worldwide. The reason the cloud is so popular is its cost-effective and scalable design. It is indeed an ideal approach to creating modern applications, providing quality services, and transforming business operations. Public, private, and hybrid clouds have changed the way organizations approach their infrastructure and deliver their services, providing a robust alternative to on-premises physical infrastructure. Innovation within cloud computing shows no signs of slowing down, as it appears poised to support the next generation of enterprise IT services, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and big data.

Who uses cloud computing?

The cloud has many benefits. It is therefore used by large and small organizations operating in all fields and sectors across the world. Cloud services can be used for many use cases, including data storage, backup and analysis, program development, communications, virtual desktops, and applications. The cloud also enables remote working, facilitating collaboration between teams located around the world. Without the latter, many companies would simply not have been able to grow, reach new markets, or offer new products to their customers.


One of the main characteristics of cloud computing is that users can manage their resources according to their needs, without necessarily needing intervention from the provider.


With the cloud, performance can be easily scaled up or down on demand, allowing workloads to be managed efficiently.

Measured service

Cloud computing services are billed using a pay-as-you-go model, based on product usage. This allows users to control their costs and increase their efficiency.

Centralization of resources

Another feature of cloud computing is that resources are pooled and shared. The service provider then dynamically allocates resources as needed.

Extended network access

Internet-based, cloud computing services, tools, and data are accessible across multiple devices, including laptops and smartphones.

How does the cloud work – the cloud is explained?

A cloud storage system works with a data server connected to the internet. A user (for example a cloud storage service) sends (copies of) files via the Internet to the data server, where the files are then stored. When the user wants to retrieve the files again, he uses an interface (such as a web page or an app) to access the data server. The server then returns the files to the user or gives him access to the files on the server.

The front and back of the cloud

To describe how a cloud system works, we can divide the system into two parts: the front end and the back end. These are connected to each other via a network, usually the Internet. The front end is the user's computer (or device), as well as the application (the user interface) that allows the user to access the cloud system. At the back of the cloud system are various computers, servers, and data storage systems, which together form the cloud.

Users can access the cloud storage through their internet connection. They can download the requested data on any device with an internet connection, such as a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Although all cloud applications require an internet connection, it is not always necessary to have a constant connection to the internet. Some applications only require you to be online when you want to sync the files (you've been working on) to the cloud storage.

Where does the cloud store your data?

There are hundreds of different cloud storage systems. Some have a very specific focus, such as storing email messages or images. Other systems can store all kinds of data. Some cloud storage systems are small, while others are so large that the equipment can fill an entire warehouse. 

The facility where a cloud storage system resides is called a data center. Once you put data in the cloud, it can be stored in many different places, countries, or even continents. That location depends entirely on where the cloud service provider's data centers are located. 

The physical location of the stored data is completely irrelevant to the majority of people; your data can be retrieved immediately via the Internet, regardless of the location of the data center. 

But for companies that use the cloud to store sensitive data – for example, government documents or health records – it is important to know where the data is stored. This determines, for example, which legislation applies in the field of data protection and privacy.

Redundancy, middleware and virtualization

Finally, we explain some terms that are often used in the context of the cloud.

Cloud storage systems typically use hundreds of data servers. Multiple copies of the data are also often made, which are deliberately stored in different locations. This ensures that the data is still available if a (natural) disaster shuts down the data center or when the servers undergo maintenance or repair. Making copies of data for backup is called redundancy. 

So without redundancy, a cloud storage system cannot guarantee that users can access their files at any time. A central server manages the cloud system. Middleware enables computers in a network to communicate with each other.

Typically, servers do not operate at full capacity. This means that unused processing power is wasted. It is possible to fool a server into thinking that it is actually made up of multiple servers, each running its own independent operating system. The technique is called virtualization. By maximizing the output of individual servers in this way, virtualization reduces the need to deploy more machines. 

Advantages of the cloud

We look at the cloud. Today we focus on the benefits of the cloud. We list a number of advantages below. In the next article, we will discuss the disadvantages of the cloud. We also dedicate a separate article to cloud security.

Access to your data anywhere and anytime

One of the advantages of the cloud is that you can access your data on any device with an internet connection. Data is not limited to one user's hard drive. In this way, cloud computing increases mobility: you can work on the same project at home, on the road, or at the office, without having to take anything with you. In addition, cloud computing also enables faster information exchange. The cloud applications are accessible company-wide. In fact, colleagues can often even work together (simultaneously) on the same document or project.

More storage than on your own hardware

In the past, your storage space was limited by your device. However, thanks to cloud storage, that is a thing of the past. In theory, working in the cloud has no capacity limitations. In any case, you no longer have to worry about storage space on your own device and expanding it. Of course, this also means that you do not necessarily have to buy a high-end machine. The cloud servers not only offer storage but also (much of) computing power.

Possible financial benefits

The fact that you no longer have to buy an expensive PC naturally results in financial savings. However, that's not the only way the cloud can save you money. Also consider, for example, costs for IT staff, updates, and hardware repairs. 

It may also be possible to save on your electricity bill. Or maybe you can rent a smaller office. Of course, servers and other hardware just take up space. Thanks to the cloud, the user needs less space for his own hardware. However, whether choosing the cloud always leads to savings depends on the situation. After all, not all cloud services are free.

The cloud is scalable

Many companies have changing needs over the years. What's called: some needs can sometimes even change seasonally, just think of the summer crowds. In that case, the cloud is a useful option. The cloud lets you scale up (and down) when your needs change. This means that you do not have to make large investments in physical equipment that you may no longer need a few months later.

Convenience, updates and innovation

You can often use the chosen cloud service within a few minutes. You adjust your personal settings, choose a network, and select which devices you want to connect. You then have immediate access or data. You don't have to install anything on your own device. In addition, the cloud provider ensures that updates are installed. 

Cloud systems are also constantly being improved to be faster and cheaper. Consider, for example, the addition of machine learning. Finally, many cloud applications make it very easy to set up backup and recovery options. This way you will never lose your data.

Disadvantages of the cloud

We look at the cloud. After previously paying attention to the advantages of the cloud, today we focus on the disadvantages of the cloud. We list some of these disadvantages.

No internet = no access

Without an internet connection – or with a very poor internet connection – you are basically locked out of access to your data and cloud-based programs. A good internet connection is simply a must when it comes to cloud computing.

Technical problems

The same applies, of course, if technical problems or malfunctions occur with the cloud provider. Even then, as a customer, you no longer have access to your data or programs. Although most providers try to combat this disadvantage with redundancy techniques, it is still possible for an entire system to crash and customers to be unable to access the cloud. Or even worse: that their data is lost forever.

Loss of control

The above disadvantages essentially have to do with a loss of control. By using cloud applications you give up a significant amount of control. For example, you have no control over how often maintenance is performed on the servers. Perhaps much less than you would like. In addition, when a problem arises, you are unable to tackle the problem yourself. It is also questionable to what extent customer service is available/helpful.

Security and privacy

The biggest concerns about cloud computing have to do with security and privacy. The idea of ​​transferring important data to another company worries some people. Logically! Because of the online component, you always run the risk that your data ends up in the wrong hands. 

Of course, cloud companies take all kinds of security measures to protect your data against hackers, but unfortunately, these are never foolproof. Physical security is just as important. Servers can be stolen or damaged, for example in the event of a fire.

Who owns the data?

The next disadvantage has to do with ownership. Do these remain with the customer or are they owned by the cloud provider? Is it possible for a cloud company to deny a customer access to their own data? That sounds far-fetched, but really all you have to do is think of the controversy surrounding Facebook and Instagram changing terms of service.

Examples of cloud applications

Like the Internet, the cloud is not owned by any one organization – it is an umbrella term for a variety of applications managed by many different organizations. We focus on services that are suitable for individual users who want to store photos, and documents, for example.

You also use the cloud

Chances are you've already used some form of cloud computing. For example, if you have an email account with Hotmail or Gmail, then you (unknowingly) already have some experience with cloud computing. Instead of running the email program on your computer, you log in remotely to a web email account. In other words: the software and storage for your email account is not on your computer, but in the cloud.

Well-known cloud applications

There are hundreds of cloud services and providers and that number seems to be increasing every day. We mention a few well-known players. To start with, the web email providers mentioned above such as Gmail and Hotmail. There are also numerous companies active in the field of photo storage. 

Sites like Flickr and Picasa, for example, host millions of digital photos. Users create online photo albums by uploading photos directly to these companies' cloud servers. Or take YouTube, which hosts millions of user-uploaded video files. You can also think of social media companies such as Facebook, where content posted by users is stored in the cloud.

We will highlight another example: Google Drive. This cloud computing service allows users to store their files in the cloud. They can then edit the files with the associated cloud apps, such as Google Docs and Google Sheets. 

You can open Drive on your PC, but also on your tablet and smartphone. For the latter devices, there are also separate apps for Docs and Sheets, among others. Most of Google's services are good examples of cloud computing. Think of the aforementioned Gmail, but also Google Calendar and Google Maps.

Storage in the cloud and locally

The dividing line between local computing and cloud computing is sometimes very blurred. That's because the cloud is part of almost everything on our computers today. For example, you can have local software on your PC, such as Microsoft Office, which also offers a form of cloud storage. 

Microsoft OneDrive. In addition, there are also web-based versions of traditional programs, such as Office, such as Office Online. These online versions are fully accessible via your web browser; so you don't have to install a program. That makes these versions cloud-based.

We also have hybrid services such as Dropbox. This service stores files both in the cloud and locally. By automatically synchronizing with the local files on your computer's hard drive, you always have a backup of your files in the cloud, which you can of course access again via an internet connection.

Synchronization is an important part of cloud computing. For example, thanks to synchronization you can also work on the same file with multiple people on separate devices. After all, the files are stored on servers in a data center, instead of locally on the device of one of the people. This is also why a user can log into their Instagram account across devices and access their photos, and conversations from anywhere.

Completely in the cloud

The fact that you don't have to store anything on your PC, tablet, or smartphone thanks to the cloud is of course a solution if you have little local storage space. If you want to watch a video on YouTube, you don't have to download it first. Instead, you stream the video from the cloud to your computer so you can start watching right away.

 Currently, the Chromebook is the best-known example of a device that is completely focused on the cloud. Chromebooks are laptops that have just enough local storage to run the Chrome OS. Everything else happens online: apps, media, and storage are all in the cloud.

Paid and free cloud applications

Some of the cloud services mentioned above are free. However, for others, you have to pay. In general, the price of cloud services has fallen considerably since more companies have entered the market. In addition, many of the companies that charge for their services also offer a free option. For example, the amount of storage is smaller than for paying customers.

Is cloud computing safe?

The cloud makes it easy for us by storing our data somewhere else. This means that you do not have to buy an expensive PC with a lot of memory. However, that convenience also has a downside... Because how do you know that your data is really safe after you have entrusted it to a cloud provider? After all, you do not know (for sure) what measures they take to guarantee the security of your data and your privacy.

Is the cloud protected against hackers?

Let's face it: thanks to the online component of the cloud, you always run the risk that your data ends up in the wrong hands. Of course, cloud companies take all kinds of security measures to protect your data as best as possible against hackers. This includes authentication processes and data encryption.

Are data centers properly secured?

Physical security is just as important! Servers can be stolen or damaged, for example in the event of a malfunction or fire. Fortunately, cloud providers can also take measures here. For example, backups of the data can be stored in multiple locations, also known as redundancy. 

You can also consider solutions such as smoke detectors and emergency power. Data centers are also often located in secret locations that are heavily fortified and monitored. This can prevent intruders (or disgruntled employees) from stealing or damaging the hardware.

Reputation is everything for cloud providers

So, can you trust cloud solutions or not? It's good to remember that reputation is the most important thing for cloud providers! If it turns out that data is not secure, a company can in principle close its doors... As such, they will put a lot of effort into using the most advanced security techniques and offering the most reliable service possible. However, as mentioned, nothing is foolproof.

Keep sensitive information out of the cloud

Whether or not you should use the cloud depends entirely on the data you want to store. If you have really sensitive information, you might do well to keep it off the public cloud... It is not always entirely clear who exactly the stored data belongs to.

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