Syncing to the Cloud - What For?

In previous posts I've taken a look at using cloud computing services for fun and profit. Today I'd like to look at the whole notion of cloud computing, and exactly why we, as end users might want to use it.

(For those who aren't up to speed, "cloud computing" is a term used to describe services that store your files and other data on a remote server, and allow you to access it via the Internet)

Probably the biggest convenience-related aspect of cloud services is that all your different devices have the same data all the time.

"But I don't have lots of devices!" I hear you say. Maybe so. But if you have a computer for work, another for home and a cellphone, that's already three devices with data to be synchronized. If you're not syncing them directly, then you're probably doing it manually, by taking a phone number in your work address book, entering it into your phone's contact list, and then saving it again on your home computer. Sound familiar?

In the old days (like three years ago) your computer acted as the central hub for all the syncing. If you were syncing at all, your syncing situation probably looked something like this:

With your main computer in the middle, and all your other devices syncing off it. If you had a second computer, you would have to sync via a third-party cloud service, like Microsoft Exchange or something to keep your stuff updated.

But here's a hypothetical situation (that you may actually have come across): let's say you have a meeting set up on your second computer. While you're sitting at that computer, you change a detail (say the venue). A few minutes later you need to change another detail (say the time), but all you have with you is your cellphone, so you update it on your phone's calender.

So now what's happened? The second computer accepted the change and synced it up to Exchange. Exchange then sent the change to your main computer. So you go home that evening and sync your phone with your main computer... the computer tries to update the event in your phone's calendar, but it sees there's already a change in your phone's calendar (the time is different). It doesn't know how to resolve the conflict, so it creates a duplicate event. So now all your devices have two copies of this meeting, one with a changed time, the other with a changed venue. Weeks later, on the day of the meeting, how do you know which is the correct one?

There are three problems with this picture:

1. There are too many steps between different devices. More than one step leaves you open to errors.

2. Too many of the syncs have to be activated manually, usually by you actually plugging one device into another and pushing a button to make it happen. This means that the syncing between two devices at opposite ends of the chain could take hours or even days.

3. Everything is dependent on the Main Computer. If that gets stolen or damaged, the whole process breaks down, and you have to start again from scratch!

But everything's changed now. With the right devices and cloud-based services, you can now have a picture that looks more like this:

With all your devices syncing directly with the cloud, your central storage location is safely protected by a cloud services company. All your devices can sync directly with the cloud, updating it and each other via the Internet, and in real time! You don't even have to push a button to make the sync happen anymore (unless you want to) - as long as they're connected to the Internet, these things all sync themselves!

Plus you can add or take away devices as you see fit. Laptop gets stolen? No problem: just get a new one and carry on where you left off. Want to sync up your tablet computer, smart TV or car? No problem: just log them into your account and away they go.

And it's not limited to just calendars and contact lists anymore. Any of your content: documents, presentations, photos, videos, music, podcasts you name it! Even certain applications can be synced to the cloud!

In future posts we'll look at exactly how to get syncing set up between your devices and the cloud. Don't be scared though, it's a lot easier than it sounds. And keeping organised will be so much easier when you're there.

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