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I have thousands of photos in the cloud. I know they are not really in a cloud in the sky, but where are they?

I suppose every industry has its share of jargon that means little to anyone outside of that industry. (Just think of the words we throw around in our churches!) The term “cloud computing” came about in the late 1990s to describe a new way of working with computers. One person described it as a rebranding of the internet. 

It used to be that the internet was a way to communicate with others and shuffle small files around, leaving the work of computing to our local machines—those big beige boxes that once sat on desks everywhere. But as the collection of wires and switches and whatnot the internet ran on grew, engineers figured out that more could be done by bigger machines farther away in “the cloud”—not on some mountaintop, but in large buildings called data centers that employ lots of people and keep lots and lots of computers energized and cool.

The design of these data centers allows for flexibility, so if a company needs more computing power or storage, they can rent more computing power or space in the center.

This new way also allowed for something with a more helpful name: software as a service. Rather than all of us buying a copy of a program (such as Microsoft Office) and installing it on our own computers, we are able to run Office applications (such as Word or Excel) via the internet and subscribe or unsubscribe to services as our needs change.

Of course, like many advances, sometimes it seems to be two steps forward and one step back. All this interconnectivity means we’re dependent on the internet running all day every day. For most of us in the U.S. and Canada, it does so amazingly. If you’re sharing space, security can be an issue. And these centers use a lot of energy—something I’m not sure we’ve gotten a good handle on yet.

So, while “the cloud” might not be nearly as wonderful as real clouds, it’s still pretty cool. And those thousands of photos? Maybe we’ll deal with that problem another time.

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