The Cloud

April 2022

(the) CLOUD is basically a Marketing Expression in todays world and in most cases Cloud services would be more correct . Cloud services a.k.a Cloud Computing are services that are hosted within “The Cloud” and can be accessed by any (most) “Network Devices”.  The Cloud basically means “somewhere on the Internet” (any where on Earth) or more usually  “somewhere within the (World Wide Web” (anywhere on Earth). Most often cloud services are accessed via the WWW (World Wide Web) and can be available in multiple locations and in multiple Countries and it is virtually impossible to know (for certain) where the Cloud Service you are using is located (Geographically) or where your data is stored because of the way Cloud Services work.

Cloud Services” have to be (and are usually) very robust and reliable and this is accomplished in several ways by awesome computer and network techies. The techies use things like built-in redundancy (to cater for equipment failure), Replication (to make sure all data is replicated / copied to all locations). They also make use of RAID 5 data arrays (as a minimum), which almost always include “hot swappable” HDDs / SSDs in the data arrays (to cater for equipment failure). Other things like “load balancing” and “traffic management” all come in to play. Where a “Cloud Service” operates in multiple countries and / cities, it is very likely that your data is held in more than one geographic location or may be spread over several geographic locations. Cloud Computing ROCKS!

Historically, going back 25+ years when network kit had to be “Novell Compatible“,  networking techies have drawn schematic views of the the company LAN ( a concept pioneered  CISCO) and at some point the WAN (Internet) was depicted as a picture of a cloud, techies knew that the “cloud” (picture) referred to the connection to the ISP and that it would be virtually impossible to make an accurate drawing of the data / network paths once it got to the ISP and through the Internet (Infrastructure) and then back into a different company site so “The Cloud” represented unknown data paths between different company sites. Network techies that work for companies are only really interested in the LAN IP address(s) used within the company LAN but the WAN IP address of the routers (internet gateways) is also important. The WAN IP address for companies / businesses is usually a “Static IP Address and this is ultimately the “Default Gateway” for all “Internet bound” traffic (data). Network techies can control the IP addresses on the company LAN but they have no control of IP addresses outside of the LAN and they have no control of the data paths used by the WAN. When a VPN is used to create an encrypted “tunnel” through the cloud, the “data route” is still under the control of the techies that look after the Infrastructure (Internet) and the “data route” will go through several routers (routers are the bits of kit that are used in the Infrastructure, in effect, they make the Internet work) .

Household and SOHO Internet users mainly use a “Dynamic WAN IP” but this is still the “Default Gateway” for Internet bound traffic.

In Windows, you can use “tracert” & “pathping” to find out how many routers your data passes through. In Linux “tracepath” & “traceroute” can be used. The number of routers your data passes through is known as the number of hops and that is nothing to do with making beer 🙂

In the modern world It would seem that “the Cloud” (Cloud Computing / Services) is now used by marketing people to describe it as a “New / modern feature”. It isn’t new, the facility has been around for over 20+ years for those with deep pockets but they way it is now used is different. Now that we are all (mostly) using “Always on” Broadband and connection speeds have gone to dizzying heights, “Cloud services” have become more available to the masses. Google, Microsoft and others have servers* that provide “Remote Storage” (Google Drive, Google Photos, MS Onedrive, iCloud etc) and also have servers* that provide “Web content” (Web Servers) and Email servers*. There are some other not well known Cloud Services.

Servers* these are just computers on steroids. They usually have more powerful CPUs, Huggins of RAM and mind boggling amounts of storage space. These are usually located in “Data Centres”, which often house 100’s of servers in cabinets. A lot of magic happens in Data Centres and they range in size, some are like small cities!

What is a DATA CENTER

Google, Microsoft, Apple and others all have servers (and indeed Data Centres) in many different countries and many different cities and in most cases these servers are duplicated (mirrored) and replicated to ensure minimal disruption in case of failure so in principal “Cloud services” can be anywhere on the “Internet” (an Infrastructure). Cloud services can offer such things as remote access to applications so that you don’t need to install the application on your local PC (similar to the “Main Frame” model). Google Docs and MS office 365 are good examples and this means that any documents you create can be easily shared with others to collaborate and all these documents are backed up and can be accessed easily from any PC / network device anywhere in the world. To make use of Cloud services, you need a good broadband connection! The “Broadband” connection can include mobile connections using 4G or latterly 5G. Cloud Services are becoming the “main stay” of the modern world, this may be a very convenient option for a lot of people but for some, having all your data “in the cloud” is not desirable!

Most modern (smart) phones use “The Cloud” to backup the contents of your phone. If you get a new phone, it is fairly easy to use the “restore from backup” option to get the new phone up & running with mostly all the “apps” you had on your old phone, that is awesome!

In most cases, the photos on your mobile device will be squirted up to “a cloud storage” facility and you can be sure that your photos will be backed up and the chances of losing your precious photos will be close to zero.

The Cloud (Cloud Services) does indeed offer many advantages but, in the case of Cloud Storage, do you really want your photos and other documents to be “Stored” on a “Server” in a unknown location? Do you really want your “data” to be available to such things as “Data Mining”!

It would be very difficult and very costly to provide the robust and reliable features of Cloud Services “in house”. For home users, it would be beyond their technical skills and mostly their budget. So you need to factor this in to your decision about using Cloud Services.

True Cloud services have many entry points from multiple geographic locations and the “Servers” are replicated, duplicated and synchronised across all physical locations so that everyone sees the same data, regardless of their geographic location.

“Pseudo” Cloud services can sometimes only have one geographic entry point. However, they do sort of work in a similar fashion but in the main, they are offering a modern version of the “Main Frame” model to allow “In House” systems to be “hosted” outside of the company LAN. This can offer a few advantages but the biggest disadvantage, which is common to all Cloud Services is the “Internet Connection“. If you lose your Internet connection, you can’t work or access your data. Another disadvantage is lack of control of such things as security and backups etc but my main concern of using Cloud Services is that companies / businesses  “farm out” previously “in-house” services and the “hosting company” have all of your business information and details; this could be a potential (security) problem! In the case of personal / home users, the smart phone holds most of our personal data and this is backed up / copied to unknown locations that that are usually secure but “data breaches” can and do occur.

Email is basically a “Cloud Service” and this is basically awesome. Gmail (Google mail) is probably the most used email facility. You can use any device (cross platform e.g. Android phone, Windows desktop, Apple iPad / iPhone ) to access your Gmail and that is awesome.The downside is that you may delete “messages” and these won’t show in your “inbox” but they will still be there in the “Deleted items” and  “All Mail” folders. In some ways this is good because it means you can retrieve accidentally deleted messages, the downside is that your deleted messages are still stored in perpetuity. In the case of GMail, if you login using a (web) browser, you can view the “All Mail” and / or “Deleted items” folder and it is very likely that you will see messages that you deleted, going back years. You can at this stage “delete forever” and reduce the size of your mailbox but due to “certain laws”, your data will have to be backed up and the copies held for several years!

Some businesses use MS Outlook for email and they have “mail servers” (Exchange servers) that are mainly used within the company LAN, generally speaking this is not classed as a “Cloud Service” but it can operate in a similar fashion where employees can access their mail from outside of the LAN.

I do use Cloud services, e.g. Google Drive, Gmail, MS Onedrive and iCloud as it is very convenient but I’m choosy about what I store in the cloud. mainly stuff I want to share with others. I also have my own “Pseudo Cloud Services” which can only be accessed from within my LAN and consists of a 2TB RAID 5 “hot Swappable” array and this is backed up daily to a different location.

You don’t need to be a geek or a nerd to have your own personal “Pseudo Cloud Services”, with regard to storing documents and photos etc. Neither do you need to have a much in the way of technical skills or indeed a deep pockets.

When I get around to it, I’ll do an article on “Personal Cloud storage” and give you a heads up on how to go about it.

SUMMARY.

“Cloud Services” are very convenient and usually easy to use. Unfortunately you are not in control of how or where “your” data is stored and it is very open to “data mining”. The one thing that you can be assured of is that your data will (usually) be well protected and backed up in (probably) more than one location so the chances of losing your data will be minimal.

Having your data in the “Cloud” means that you can use pretty much any device that has an “Internet connection”, anywhere in the World, to access your data.

The main downside to using “Cloud Services” is that you have zero control of where it is stored and the current levels of “Free Storage” may be reduced and force you into paying a monthly fee – unless you delete some stuff. Currently Google offer 15GB of free storage and this is plenty for most people but if you, say, have grand kids and you want to store a lot photos and videos, your 15GB will soon be used up. What will you do then? Will you delete a lot of your precious photos and vids or will you sign up for a paid for service to increase your storage needs?

Cloud Services“, in particular “Cloud storage” could be akin to the “Pied Piper” and at some stage it might be “time to pay the piper”! At some stage, your “free storage” might be reduced and you will have to choose to delete your stuff or start paying for the storage. A good example of this is with Microsoft. They originally offered 15GB of free storage and had “incentives” that gave you extra free storage but they decided to reduce the free storage to a miserly 5GB, regardless of the “earned incentives”!

Other Cloud services like Facebook and Facebook messenger allow you upload your photos to share with others and it seems there are no limits but do you really want to have your “precious” photos stored “somewhere in the cloud” for perpetuity and not really have any real control of who can see them?

A free lunch is usually the most expensive lunch you will ever have“. Keep this in mind when using Free cloud storage!

In closing. Never forget that comments you make on Facebook, Twitter etc will hang around like a bad smell. Photos that you upload to Facebook and other cloud services will remain in perpetuity and may be considered “Public Domain”.

Cloud Services are very convenient (and mostly secure) but you need to be aware of the Pros & Cons. You will likely never know where your data is “physically” stored but you need to learn how to control what (of your) data is stored. You can be assured that any data you upload to “Cloud Services” will be subject to “Data Mining” as this allows those offering (free) data storage to target you with adverts to things that you may have shown an interest in.

For those who have nefarious intentions, you may need to know that “all network devices” have a “unique footprint” and this enables network security techies to identify “rogue” devices and with not much extra effort, the location of the device.