I CONFUSED? 'Cloud Computing' Is Technology's New Hip Term. It's Going to Change Our Lives (Again). but What Is It? Here's Your Guide to the Latest Blue Sky Thinking

Article excerpt

Byline: by Paul Lynch

CALLED 'the big disc in the sky', in the long term it signals the end of the PC as we know it. The days of having a giant hard-drive hulking on the floor under your desk will become a thing of the past. Nor will you hear someone asking for a loan of a memory stick to transfer a photo or a document to another computer. And it's all thanks to cloud computing.

Put simply, the 'cloud' is the internet and the internet becomes your hard-drive. Instead of storing all of your content on your computer hard-drive, cloud computing will allow you to keep your music, photos, documents, books, games and whatever else you may have, securely on your personal cloud, or online hard-drive.

Your computer will talk to giant data servers and access this content as you need it. With the advent of high-speed broadband and near universal Wi-Fi, accessing the information will be just as fast as storing it under your desk at home.

In many ways, the development makes sense and can be compared, for example, to the replacement of the clunky answering machine by voicemail.

Another way to look at it is to imagine it being like the electricity grid you use instead of having a generator at home. If you lose your laptop, all of your data will still be safe online. And you will be able to access all of your data from anywhere. If you are the kind of person who has multiple devices -- a home PC, a laptop and a smart phone -- then cloud computing will update all of the information on all of the devices simultaneously. So there will be no need any more for annoying synching.

Cloud computing has been building into a storm over the past few years. But now the storm has really begun to blow.

In March and May, Amazon and Google launched their own versions of the service, primarily built on storing your music online.

The IDA has created 300 new jobs this year in the sector and believes Ireland is going to play a big role in its future.

Microsoft agrees. It reckons the industry will be worth [euro]9.5billion to Ireland within three years.

BUT it wasn't until Apple rowed in with its own iCloud this week that people really sat up and noticed. When Apple goes all out with a new product, it is often a tipping point in new technology. When it launched the iPod, portable MP3 players wiped out CD personal players overnight.

Apple's revolutionary smartphone, the iPhone, caught mobile developers on the hop. It transformed mobile phone technology by putting a simple, touch-screen computer into people's pockets. And when the multi-touch tablet, the iPad, came out last year, tech experts said it would not sell. But the slimmed down, keyboard-free computer has sold 25million worldwide.

So what is Apple's vision for cloud computing? Their iCloud is a service that will simplify how people manage their content and their applications across all their devices.

Every time you put a new file on to a device, be it your iPhone or your laptop, it will automatically update on the cloud, making it instantly available to all the other Apple devices owned by the same person.

Of course, this will help reinforce Apple's proprietary interests. But the service will also work on non-Apple PCs.

And for people who are wary of new technology, Apple says that everything will happen automatically and there will be nothing new to learn. This is where Apple has succeeded in the past -- providing products that you don't have to think about.

In many ways, cloud computing is inevitable. Every time you buy a new device, all of your content starts to become scattered unless you keep everything synched. …