A Beginner’s Guide to Cloud Computing

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The computer as we know it is about to get a makeover. This week, Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) announced it would begin selling a “new kind” of computer in June called the Chromebook that is faster than any other PC or laptop currently on the market.

The Chromebook, essentially a cross between a laptop and a tablet computer, takes just a few seconds to turn on, requires virtually no time to set up and, according to Google, the computer will actually get faster over time with more software updates, whereas most computers lose speed as you fill them up with documents and applications.

The secret to this speed and simplicity, in a word, is the cloud. Rather than loading up the computer with software like video players and Microsoft Office, Chromebook users will store and access all of their data instantly on a secure network online, instead of storing it on the device itself. So if you want to play a computer game or work on a word document, you’ll do so through applications built into the Chrome Web browser or on free services on the Web and store that data in the cloud. This data would then be accessible through the Chrome browser on any other computer when you log on to your Google account.

Google isn’t the first company to take advantage of cloud computing technology in recent years, but it has effectively taken that technology to the next level by offering users the option to transfer their entire digital life into the cloud. What’s more, Google has launched an innovative pricing model where the Chromebook could be leased to students for just $20 a month and to businesses for $28 a month per user. That price might make the new computer all the more attractive to consumers and help make cloud technology more ubiquitous, but for the uninitiated, the idea of the cloud can be a bit unsettling.

Cloud Computing 101

Cloud computing has been used by businesses large and small for years, but it is only recently that the technology has entered the mainstream.

In essence, the cloud simply refers to a network of computers that store and access their data on outside servers. These servers can be privately held by a business but are typically run by third-party companies ranging from big names like Google and Amazon to lesser-known groups like Rackspace.

“The motivation to do this for many businesses is agility, as they can be more efficient with their own data center resources,” said Ken Schneider, vice president of Symantec, a leading Internet security company. For businesses, cloud computing makes it more efficient and generally more affordable to store massive amounts of data and to share software and files among employees.

Consumers, on the other hand, have a slightly different incentive. Rather than agility, the operative word for consumers is access.

“For consumers, what we see is that they are using more and more sophisticated mobile devices and have an expectation that they will be able to get access to their information anywhere, rather than having it glued to one device,” Schneider said.