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The Cloud

By Traci Hukill

The buzz around "cloud computing" just gets louder every week. But what is it? Basically, it means storing everything online and plucking it out of the ether whenever you need it. Cisco Systems spokesman Neil Becker uses Netflix's new streaming video product, which you can download instantly rather than waiting around for a DVD to come in the mail, to illustrate.

"So you and I both want to see Wall-E," Becker says. "I click it and watch it, and you can click it and watch it at the same time. But if there's just one copy of the DVD, it goes to me or to you."

There are public clouds (like Facebook or Gmail, which anyone can link into) and private clouds (imagine a dentist's office that stores patient records in a password-protected virtual system accessible from anywhere). The fabulous thing about the cloud, Becker explains, is it obviates the need for lots of individual servers. Instead, many offices and households share space on a ginormous, faraway server. It's cheaper and more efficient for companies because they can skip buying the hardware. Conceivably, laptops could become even lighter and simpler, since they'd only have one job: accessing the cloud.

Eventually, perhaps, we ourselves will just vaporize and join the cloud, and that will be the greatest leveraged efficiency of them all.

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