Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : April 2011


In a business environment multiple computers are connected together through the company network. They may have a centralized file area where they can share documents and files but each computer has its own software to manipulate and interact with those files. It is usually the responsibility of the IT staff to install the software, ensure that it is properly licensed, keep up with any updates to the software and maintain a constant data backup for each computer. If a new employee comes along then another computer is purchased along with the purchase and installation of all the different software applications needed. Cloud computing changes things a bit; with cloud computing the software lives on the server or other remote location accessible using an internet connection. The software is accessed by using an interface, usually a web browser.  The software can be anything from document or image editing to e-mail and complex data analysis programs. Any software or service you use that isn’t installed on your computer is in the cloud.

The term cloud computing comes from the common usage of a cloud shaped image to represent the Internet or some large networked environment. This is strangely appropriate because we don’t really care what’s in the cloud or exactly how it works, just that when we need it that it will do what we ask and will reliably sending our data to it and receiving data from it.

Web based email services like Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail are one example of cloud computing. The software and storage for your account is on the service’s computer cloud and doesn't exist on your computer. A more advanced example is with a suite of free creative tools that rival some of the more expensive photo, illustration and audio editors.

Cloud Computing: Nuts and Bolts

There are two sides of cloud computing, the users side and the server side. The cloud that users connect to can be an office network or can exist somewhere on the Internet. The user side is the user’s computer and the server side is the cloud portion of the system. The cloud is whatever various computers, servers and data storage systems that makes up the “cloud”. Often users just use a web browser to access their tools but not always. Some systems will have a custom interface that will provide additional security or tools not available in a web browser.

Can I Count on It?

When dealing with cloud computing you, as the user, want two things: reliability and security. You might not care how it works, but if it doesn’t work the way you expect you know there will be consequences. In both factors, the provider’s reputation is the key. It is what is at stake if they mess something up and they know that you will take your business elsewhere if that happens. This is why they monitor traffic, resource demands and continually back up your data to ensure everything runs smoothly. But what about security? Do I really want all of my stuff out there and not in here where it’s safe? It greatly benefits those that offer cloud based services to have reliable security measures in place. Because the users could log in from any location to access data and applications privacy is also an issue and is most commonly solved by placing limits on what can be accessed and by who.

Why Should I Use It?

Cloud computing is still considered by some to be still in its infancy but it is growing quickly. It has gained a solid foothold in the workplace by providing sales and human resources applications. Cloud based spam filtering software such as Postini is another example of the seamless integration with traditional software.

Here are some other reasons: 

  • Imagine being able to access not only your files from just about anywhere but also the applications you use to edit or manage that information. You could access the cloud computing system using any computer connected to the Internet. Your data wouldn’t be confined to a single hard drive on a single computer or business network.
  • Hardware would no longer limit your productivity. Cloud based systems need to run on the fastest computer with the most memory because those needs are taken care of by the cloud system. You wouldn’t even need a huge hard drive because all your information is stored and backed up on a remote computer.
  • Business that use cloud based software can quickly adapt to changing situations because they don’t have to purchase additional computers, software licenses or wait for them to be installed.
  • Room to spare. Servers take up space and have certain environmental conditions they require to remain happy, functioning pieces of equipment. Also if you need to expand and require additional resources you don’t have to consider remodeling your building to accommodate the new hardware.
  • You also don’t need to spend all that electricity to run it all. Of course that fee is rolled into whatever price you’re paying for the service but it’s nice not seeing it on your BGE bill. The other thing rolled into the base fee of your outsourced technology is IT support. If their IT staff is looking after equipment health and spending their time making sure everything is up to date then that means that your IT guy isn’t.

There is also the important question of who owns the data and is it possible for a cloud computing company to deny a client access to that client’s data? The answer is most likely going to vary depending on what company you talk to and you should understand everything beforehand.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: April 2011

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