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With some of the world s most prominent tech companies rolling out cloud services, cloud computing has become all the rage. Yet confusion about what the cloud actually is and how it works seems to be growing, not diminishing. It s not just consumers who are puzzled; many business owners, corporate professionals and even some IT people don t fully comprehend this nebulous concept. So what exactly do companies and techies mean when they refer to the cloud? Here we shed some light on the cloud and cloud services to help you navigate the bewildering tech talk.

Tackling the Cloud
The cloud is nothing more than a warm and fuzzy abstract metaphor for the internet, or more literally, the vast array of storage servers around the globe that comprise it. When a file is stored in the cloud, this simply means the file resides on one of those servers and can be accessed through an internet connection. Cloud applications, such as web-based email, work in the same way; you access the application through a web browser or app on an internet-connected device. Applications and files in the cloud differ from local ones, which are saved locally on a computer hard drive.

What Is a Cloud-Based Service?
In the broadest sense, cloud-based services can be any type of web service or application that lives in the cloud and is accessed online. For instance, Google s Gmail is a cloud-based service, as is Facebook. Both sites are vastly different in purpose but are by definition cloud-based services because of how they operate: you access the service, and the files you save through them, on the internet.

Differentiating Cloud Service Providers
It seems that everyone has a slightly different definition of what a cloud service is and what it should provide. While not all cloud services are created equal, they do provide the same basic functionality. Cloud services provide computing as a service rather than a product, essentially giving you your own personal hard drive in the cloud, or online. You can upload and store your files on the provider s servers, via an internet connection, rather than locally on your own computer or other storage device.

The advantages of using a cloud service are numerous. Most appealing is the fact that you can access any of your stored files   photos, music, Word documents and more   from any internet connection on a computer or handheld device. This gives you convenient access to your files no matter where you are. It also ensures you ll never lose your files if your local hard drive is damaged or stolen.

Truth be told, the cloud is simple and there s a good chance you re already using some type of cloud-based service. How you utilize the cloud moving forward is highly dependent on your habits and the types of digital content you most frequently use. Regardless, a solid understanding of what the cloud is and how it works will help you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to this revolutionary technology.

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