What does the “Cloud” actually mean?

I was having coffee with a friend the other day and when the discussion came up of trying to explain what SkyCiv does - it became pretty apparent that the word "Cloud" has been thrown around so much that it can actually be quite confusing. Let's back up a second and take the time to really understand this mystical concept of "The Cloud".

What is the Cloud?

Cloud Computing is simply the ability to store and access your files and programs over the Internet. The cloud is essentially another word for the Internet. The cloud is the location where these files and programs are stored. Yahoo Search, Gmail, eBay, Online Banking, QuickBooks, DropBox are all examples of cloud based services - you connect to them all directly via the Internet. For those who are more visual, there's a great infographic from Microsoft:

These are all just concepts, let's use a real life example. At SkyCiv, our server (essentially our "Cloud") is a room of super computers in Buffalo, New York. These super computers host the software, SkyCiv website and all of our users' files. So to connect to the software, you simply log in from our website (skyciv.com) which will allow you to connect to the SkyCiv Cloud so that you can access the information from wherever you are.

Ok, but Physically - what is the cloud?

As mentioned, the cloud is essentially a cluster of powerful computers (or "servers"). Google would have their own, Yahoo their own and of course SkyCiv has their own. This is where the software and files are stored:

An example of a server room or a "Cloud"

Of course you can download all your information from these servers onto your local computer. These are much faster, reliable and powerful than our desktop computers, which allow them to store more and make faster calculations. These servers also have daily back up procedures to ensure the safety of files.

Before the Cloud, What was the Traditional Way?

Let's take another simple case to compare; emails. On one hand, you can download and install a program (like Microsoft Outlook) to your computer and store all of your emails on your local hard drive. The only way to access this program and the emails is via your one specific computer. On the other hand, a service like Gmail stores the program and all your emails on their cloud. This means, no matter what device you're on, you can still access the software and emails via the Internet. I realise there are exceptions to this (things like WebMail) but I feel it is a very relatable example.

Cloud FAQs

The cloud is considered a safe alternative to traditional on-premise technology. Many cloud vendors use the same technology as banks with online banking, merchants with credit card payments and emails providers with private documents. In many cases, economies of scale can allow cloud providers to implement security measures that private businesses may not be able to afford. In saying this, it is always good to perform due diligence and ensure the cloud vendor has security procedures in place to protect your data.
Well, you don't! The software is accessed via a web browser such as Chrome or Firefox. Simply visit the website and login - it will take you to the program right there and then.
Plenty of cloud vendors offer this functionality to download copies of the file to store locally. This allows companies to store their documents, files and projects in a way that is convenient them. This is available in SkyCiv under the Enterprise Account.
For most cloud services, uptime is critical. Often they will put in place systems to ensure uptime (backup servers, monitoring systems, auto-rebooters) or go with a third party company that specialises in this. With a reputable cloud provider, you can expect an uptime rate greater than 99.9%. The only times you might have issues is if your company blocks the website or your internet connection is down.

I hope this helps clear up what the cloud is exactly. I know it worked for my friend! If you are a Structural Engineering company and curious about how the cloud could apply to your company, or just interested in discussing feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or even try our cloud software - it's free!

Sam Carigliano, PEng CEO and Co-Founder of SkyCiv
Sam Carigliano, PEng
CEO and Co-Founder of SkyCiv
BEng (Civil), BCom