How to Use and Understand Cloud Computing

By Mike Sweeney

Cloud computing is the use of a variety of services hosted on remote servers and accessed over the Internet. Some of the most common uses for “the cloud” are secondary storage of personal and business files, data backup for disaster recovery, online collaboration of tasks through shared documents on one platform, and using software on a subscription or per-use basis, often called software-as-a-service, or SaaS.

Storage Options

Cloud storage encompasses several important aspects of cloud computing. There are vendors that offer cloud services so you can save your videos, photos, music and other files on their servers as a viable alternative to adding a new internal or external hard drive to your existing computer. Other storage vendors suggest you use the cloud to back up all your computer files in case your hard drive or software malfunctions. Another valuable use for cloud storage is sharing files on a single platform so you can collaborate with other people at any time. In addition, using cloud storage gives you the ability to access your files from any of your devices -- smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop. A few cloud storage companies to consider are OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Carbonite and Box.

Disaster Recovery

Hard drives have been known to fail unexpectedly, laptops can get stolen and tablets dropped. It does not take much to lose or damage your files -- even all your files, such as your music collection, family photos or business documents. Cloud services can help protect you from data loss. You can manually pick and choose which files to send to a cloud storage vendor for backup purposes, or you can choose to have a vendor automatically back up some or all of your files to its servers. Your protected files will be synced to all your devices and are easily accessed through the Internet.


Cloud storage provides access to your most-used files whenever you want from your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Most cloud vendors quickly sync your files across all your devices so you can access what you want, when you want. Just log in through the cloud vendor’s website or through its app on your device, avoiding the need to copy and transfer files between devices via USB thumb drive, an external hard drive or by emailing attached files. You can also choose to share files with any other users you choose; this way, your selected group of online collaborators can work together on the same documents, increasing the productivity and performance of everyone in the group.

Software as a Service

SaaS is a cloud-based delivery model in which you access software over the Internet. Also referred to as “on-demand” software, these kinds of software services are normally priced on a monthly subscription or pay-per-use basis. Once you are a customer, log in to your account and begin working. All your work is saved and protected on the vendor's servers, and you can access the data through any of your devices at any time. SaaS is becoming more commonplace and is used in many business applications, including accounting, payroll processing, invoicing, project management and customer relationship management.