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Hobbs: Cloud computing brings risks, rewards

When do you have something without having anything? This is the riddled response that is often offered to explain the practice of cloud computing.

The name suggests some ethereal technological junket, but it is a practice that many businesses and individuals are finding practical.

Cloud computing is when you store information or use applications over a network. Some large companies that are spread around the nation and across the globe use a form of internal cloud computing. One of the most common types of cloud computing is to have a technology infrastructure that is maintained online by an outside vendor.

This entails using the Internet to access your applications and manage a product or service that is sold commercially. It is not a good fit for some companies, but others find that it is a way to lower operating costs and increase revenue.

Some of the pros of cloud computing for businesses are that they can offer services without having to invest heavily into equipment. Also, since cloud computing relies on offsite vendors to maintain the hardware, a business is spared the expenses of electricity, manpower and other costs associated with maintaining equipment in-house.

Another advantage of cloud computing is its innate portability. From a business perspective, this is a huge asset. If your business finds itself in a situation such as those in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or in New York after September 11th, 2001, there is the peace of mind that your business should not be severely set back.

The primary downside to cloud computing is that you are at the mercy of the vendor. If that vendor goes out of business or has an interruption in service, it will have a direct and immediate impact on your business and customers.

You could find yourself in a similar situation if you maintained your own equipment, but having to rely on another company may be a little unnerving.

Cloud computing for individuals is slightly different than for businesses. Individuals can normally find enough freebies to make cloud computing worth their while. Free is usually good, but add portability to it and it becomes very good. Being able to access your e-mails, documents, pictures, video and music from any computer with an Internet connection is a benefit to students and professionals alike.

At a minimum, individual cloud computing would not be complete without a plan to back up all of your information online and offline.

Whether cloud computing is right for you largely depends on your situation, whether as an individual or a business.

Potential users should understand the inherent risks and benefits associated with relying on an online entity to maintain their information.

Quincey Hobbs is a team member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Computing and Information Technology and an instructor at Pima Community College. Send questions to quinceyresponds@yahoo.com.

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