Floating in the air like the Lando Calrissian-led Cloud City in the Star Wars original trilogy, cleverly camouflaged inside a cottony cumulonimbus, is a huge computer storing everything we upload or download to a Web site.
Pretty imagery – but "cloud computing" has nothing to do with the sky or clouds. It's a metaphor.
So what is "cloud computing"? If you don't know, you're not alone.
According to the "Digital Software and the Cloud Report" from market research firm NPD, just 22 percent of U.S. consumers were familiar with the term "cloud computing."
Yet, you, loyal reader, do some or a lot of computing in the cloud – you just don't know it. In fact, you're doing it right now – the Web is part of cloud computing.
And you want to be up to cloud speed because we will living more and more of our computing life in Cloud City.
What's in a name?
It's quite simple, really. Cloud computing is any computer file or data – word processing, photo, email, game, video, music – you upload to or download from a Web site, any storage of same you maintain online, or any communicating you do such as social networking.
In other words, any Web-based activity is in (on?) the "cloud."
That's it. Really. That's it.
The confusion over "cloud computing" is mostly nomenclature. According to NPD, 76 percent of its survey respondents used some sort of cloud computing in the last year – email, game playing, tax filing, photo sharing, Internet radio, video sharing, office document collaboration, storage sites. These are all cloud-based activities.
And next month, "cloud" computing will get a big publicity boost from Apple (who else?) when it officially launches its iCloud services, which I explored in "Get a Taste of Apple iCloud Now"when Steve Jobs first announced the service in June.
Where is the 'cloud'?
So where is this misty cloud?
Well, it's not in the sky, that's for sure. It's real locations are far more romantic.
The cloud are stacks and stacks of computer servers stored in giant climate-controlled warehouses. Each company that supplies cloud services – Google, Apple, photo sharing sites, banks, your email supplier such as your cable company, online storage companies such as Carbonite and others I wrote about in "How to Easily – and Cheaply – Backup Your PC"– all have giant warehouses filled with computer servers, complete with backup servers, backups to the backups, independent power supplies in case of power outage, guarded by security software, all so your data doesn't get stolen, lost or erased (theoretically).
For instance, to service its iCloud services, Apple has built a massive server center in Maiden, North Carolina, and will be building another in Santa Clara, California.
So, don't over think the cloud concept. Just keep on connecting and computing as you have been. It may be overcast outside, but computing clouds will not block the sun nor rain or snow on anyone.