The cloud – not that fluffy, white bundle of water vapor floating around in the sky, but the mysterious, unseen computer system that’s become a modern-day buzzword. What is the cloud? How does it work? And why should you care?
Last year, Team Holly announced its transition to a virtual accounting firm with no physical office and team members and clients all over the country. What makes this possible is the cloud, also known as cloud computing.
So, what is the cloud?
In simple words, cloud computing is storing and accessing data and computer programs from the Internet instead of your hard drive. Ten years ago people were talking about the cloud, but not many people were using it. These days, the cloud is pretty much everywhere, and you are probably using it. Photos on FlickR or Shutterbug? You’re using the cloud. Posting to Facebook or sharing files with Dropbox? All in the cloud. Using Gmail or Yahoo mail or streaming Netflix? Yep, the cloud. Apple iCloud, Windows OneDrive, Amazon Cloud – you are so there! Welcome to the cloud.
Basically any application, platform or file you use, store, or share that does NOT reside on your hard drive (or the physical internal network of your business) is in the cloud. For most of us individual users, that means we are using the cloud every single day. We stream music and video, we store photos online, we collaborate on documents.
In fact, right now I’m writing this post about “the cloud” using my Chromebook, a cloud-based computer. My Chromebook has no hard drive. Everything I do is stored on Google Drive and when I type, all changes are saved instantly in the cloud. I can share this file with anyone I chose, and he/she can edit it right from the same space on Google Drive. No emailing documents back and forth and getting various versions mixed up.
The advantage of using the cloud is that you can access your data from any device, anywhere, anytime – as long as you have an internet connection. The cloud service backs up your data for you. So, you are no longer lugging around USB drives or CD ROMs, and your stuff is saved for when you need it.
So, where is the cloud and how does it work?
The cloud is everywhere… and nowhere. It is on a server (that’s a giant hard drive), actually many servers, on “server farms” around the world. Yes, now we are growing clouds on farms in places you never heard of so that you can access your digital data anywhere, anytime, with any device. There are a bunch of clouds (that is, server farms) and your data could be all in one place or scattered among the server farms across the earth.
One of the cool things about the cloud, is that your documents can remain private just for your eyes only, or you can share them with specific people or the public, depending on what cloud services you use and how you set things up. When you login to your various services – Amazon, Gmail, Dropbox, FlickR or the Team Holly Portal, you can access your own stuff using your personalized usernames and passwords. But, there is no central library or place where you can access all the things you keep in the cloud(s). It’s up to you to know where your stuff lives. So, be diligent about keeping track of which cloud services you use and how you access them.
Is it secure?
One of your big concerns about using the cloud might be whether or not your documents are safe from cyber attacks. The short answer is maybe. All cloud service providers take the security of your documents seriously. Most use the best security protocols they have available to them, but because your information lives online, there is always a risk of it getting into the wrong hands. Though some experts believe the data you store in the cloud may be even safer than what’s on your hard drive, it’s wise to be prudent about what you store or share online.
Why should I care?
Increasingly schools, businesses, and individuals are turning to the cloud for most of their computer use. A 2015 cloud computing survey of IT professionals revealed that 82% of businesses are using public and private cloud computing, up 8% from the previous year.
Team Holly CPA is one of those businesses. The Team Holly portal is a partnership with Citrix ShareFile – the premier leader in secure cloud data storage for accounting firms. Using the Team Holly portal means your client files are more secure than when they resided on a hard drive in the Team Holly office, gives you direct access to your tax and financial documents and streamlines communication channels between you and your accountant. Moving to the cloud is embracing the future. No fluff!