Saturday, November 15, 2014

What is the "Cloud"?
The term cloud is bandied about with gay abandon without much definition. Specifically it can mean many things but in general terms it means putting thins to other than your local PC or device. This means that someone somewhere has computers that can perform tasks remotely for you which you can access via the internet. This may be as simple as storing things for you, take Dropbox for instance. In other cases it may be a suite of applications, such as Google Drive which includes apps such as editing and spreadsheets. Google is an excellent example since it encompasses a suite of useful functions such as mail, calendar, Apps and storage.
The "cloud" is now so ubiquitous that every major IT company now offers some form of cloud to their customers/users, some more accessible to your regular Joe such as us and others aimed higher at the small to medium business and others more suited to large companies.
So the advantages of cloud are that your data is accessible everywhere, no need to back up your data, you don't need to buy a new HDD when you run out of space, all of the processing power for the application is in "the cloud" which can be easily reconfigured to cater for changing loads.

The disadvantages are that someone else has your data, good solutions can be expensive, you are relying in the viability of the company hosting your data and applications, you are relying on theis stability and security to no have your data compromised or lost. There have been a lot of instances of data lost, services failing and passwords compromised so this is a serious consideration.
Sorry, this has been rather long winded but I really wanted to get a good definition of cloud since it is the subject of a lot of confusion.
Apple has a cloud solution and has had for some time. I the usual Apple way they have obfuscated their cloud to supposedly make it easy for Apple customers to use but in fact it just makes it more confusion IMHO. You can use the Apple cloud to store the settings of your apps and store device backups. If you wish to pay extra then you get the ability to store your music to the Apple cloud.  Lets look at each of these.
Whenever you use an app which has stored settings, take my TV episode watching app, ITV Shows. When I have watched an episode I mark it as watched in the app. Now whatever device I go to this episode is marked as watched. The details are stored in the Apple cloud. And so with many apps which store data across devices. Of course many apps such as Dropbox, have their own cloud.
Device backups can either be stored on your local computer or to the Apple cloud. On iOS 8 go to Settings->iCloud->Backup to store backups to the cloud. It will back up your device to the Apple cloud. The first time it will take a while but thereafter it will automatically sync to the cloud on WiFi whenever your device has a long idle period. The advantages are that it not be lost if your computer dies or you use the data on your local HDD and you can restore immediately when you purchase a new device. The disadvantage is that a restore will take a lot longer depending on your internet speed, you are dependent on the Apple cloud service being available and it is one more thing to loose if your account is hacked. You may recall that there was one occasion where I was locked out of my account by Apple (trust me, it was not me it was them) for about three months and I could not buy apps, login to my cloud from my devices or access my Apple cloud storage in any way and it was all on Apples side. My only option was to go to an Apple store and the closest store at that time was Melbourne. It was a complete debacle on Apple's part and their only compensation was 5 free movie rentals (which I am yet to use).
The last significant service is what Apple calls iTunes match. This is where your non-Apple purchased music can be stored in the Apple cloud. For this you need to pay Apple AU39.99 per year. We bought it for a year and it was useful but not really worth it for us. One of the nicer features was that Apple replaced any lower quality songs with Apple lossless quality which was nice but even so, it was not really worth it for us.
In the future you will find that more and more services will migrate to the cloud as universal internet access becomes the norm and cloud services will drop in price and ease of use. Even Microsoft Office has a standard cloud service now. Get used to hearing the term "cloud service" and I hope that this missive has cleared the fog surrounding the cloud a little.