Having already briefly outlined what is meant by “cloud computing“, in this post I take a brief look at five examples of cloud computing in action. How many of those listed do you use?

Email on the go

googlemailEmail communication now plays a central role in most of our busy lives. That’s fine if you don’t go out much but if you travel a lot, this may cause problems. Unless you carry a mobile WiFi-enabled laptop with you everywhere you go or use push email on your cellphone, having an email client sitting on your computer at home means that while out and about you risk spending time outside of the communication loop. This is one area where the cloud finds its most frequent and useful application.

Online email has been offered by all the big names (such as Microsoft, Yahoo and of course Google) for a number of years and I have tried a lot of different services. Wherever in the world I have found myself, my emails have (almost) always been made available to me. The easiest and most convenient for me is GoogleMail, although each has its pros and cons.

Of course, using webmail makes you a slave to an internet connection. The first thing you do when you find yourself in a new or unfamiliar location is to try and locate an internet café or public library to launch your secure portable browser and check your emails. Privacy concerns are never far from the surface either, especially when stories of passwords to private accounts being leaked online hit the headlines. How much of your life have you given away during email exchanges?

And then there’s the issue of possible data loss, which nicely leads onto the next incarnation of cloud computing.

No need for local data storage

humyoData stored on your home or business computer suffers from many of the same restrictions as email and, as with email, the cloud offers a solution. Storing your MP3’s, video, photos and documents online instead of at home gives you the freedom to access them wherever you can find the means to get online.

True, you will undoubtedly be putting your life ‘out there’ and with that comes all the security and privacy baggage that also plague webmail. Most, if not all, online storage facilities have safeguards in place to ensure that you, and only you, can get to your files – but even so. We all risk losing important files, memories and such like if we suffer from hard drive failure and storing such things away from a temperamental computer system no doubt seems like an ideal solution but where do we turn if the unthinkable happens and our chosen cloud filing cabinet suffers data loss or suddenly closes down?

Examples of online storage services include Humyo, ZumoDrive, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, S3 from Amazon, amongst others. Many offer both free and paid for storage and backup solutions.

Are you a collaborator?

spicebirdOn occasion you may find yourself in need of the opinion of your peers. Downloading files onto flash memory, emailing documents to friends or family or colleagues or sending submissions by snail mail is so last century. Last year Google launched a service that allowed groups of people to work on the same document, idea or proposal in real time or whenever convenient to each participant. Using Google Wave you can create a document and then invite others to comment, amend, offer opinion, or otherwise join in with the creation of the final draft.

Similar to instant messaging but offering much more scope it can take a project that might have taken weeks or even months to complete using other methods and potentially see it through to completion in mere minutes or hours. Google is not alone in producing online collaboration tools but it is the only one I have used myself. Other examples include Spicebird, Mikogo, Stixy and Vyew to name but a few.

Working in a virtual office

thinkfreeYet again Google’s online suite of office applications is probably the best known but by no means the only solution on offer. Rather than having a system and space hogging suite of applications like a word processor, a spreadsheet creator and a presentation or publishing platform sitting on your computer, you could opt to work online instead. Accessibility, potential for collaboration and perhaps even online storage are just some of the benefits of satisfying your office suite needs by working online.

Examples of online suite’s on offer include Ajax13, ThinkFree and Microsoft’s Office Live.

Need extra processing power?

nebula-badgeFor the dedicated cloud enthusiast, something like Amazon’s EC2 virtual computing environment might be the answer to all your needs. Rather than purchasing servers, software, network equipment and so on, users would buy into a fully outsourced set of online services instead.

Most cloud environments on offer can customize the kind of service provided to exactly suit the needs of the user. If you need more processing power from time to time, a cloud-based infrastructure, being scalable, negates the need for up-front investment in client-owned resources.

Other service providers include the open source AbiCloud, Elastichosts and NASA’s Nebula platform.

So there you have it, five examples of computing in the cloud. When presenting these examples I have tried to balance the many advantages of working exclusively online with some of the disadvantages. Those interested in further reading are encouraged to head over to a piece listing the main advantages in XML Journal, the pros and cons on IT Governance and a detailed article on ZDNet by Cath Everett.

What cloud computing examples do you use?