What is Cloud Computing?

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by Jack Taylor | Last Updated:  April 29, 2020

These days, everybody seems to be saving their files, documents, and photos to the “Cloud” instead of saving files to their desktop, laptop, iPad, or even iPhone. So, what is Cloud computing and how can you benefit from it?

The “Cloud” can be thought of as an internet hard drive.  Instead of storing and accessing your files, documents and photos on a physical hard disk from your computer or device, that information is accessible on remote servers accessible via the internet from any computer or device.

Over the last few years, Cloud computing has increasingly become more popular for businesses, but not without its challenges.  Companies that have been in business for decades have been very reluctant to entrust their data to the unseen Cloud.  However, over time these same companies have come to realize that in order to move forward and grow, they need to embrace the Cloud in order to stay solvent.

In contrast to businesses, Cloud computing has been readily embraced by home users because they tend to trust the internet due to their use and familiarity of Social Media.  In other words, because they trust Social Media, it’s not too difficult to trust their photos, files, and documents to the Cloud.

What Does Cloud Computing Look Like?

Again, think of the “Cloud” as your personal internet hard drive.

Every time I create a document, I save it to the Cloud.  Every time I save a file, I save it to the Cloud.  I never save locally.  I always save to the Cloud.  Why?  Because I know that the file or document saved to the cloud will be available to me at any time, from any computer or device.

Now, there are several different Cloud platforms to choose from, but keep in mind that not all Cloud platforms are equal.  I have personally tried using 6 or 7 Cloud platforms, but the more popular ones are OneDrive, pCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, and of course, iCloud.  While some of these Cloud platforms are more robust than others, as you would expect, iCloud is the best overall solution for those of us who use Apple devices.

In order to convey the concept of cloud computing so that it is both practical and applicable to you, we are going to thoroughly investigate iCloud to see how deeply integrated it is into all of your Apple devices.  Additionally, we are going to explore how you can benefit from all that iCloud offers.

What is iCloud?

iCloud is Apple’s answer to cloud computing. Think of it as a place where you can store all of your data in an exceptionally secure environment. 

One thing that I love about iCloud, is that I don’t need to worry about losing my files and documents . . . ever.  If I were to accidentally drop my iPhone on the pavement only to have a steamroller run over it, I know that all the data that I had backed up to iCloud could easily be retrieved after replacing the iPhone.  The same applies for my iPad, MacBook Pro and Apple Watch. 

Before iCloud, we were dependent on backing up our data locally.  We would have to manually back it up to a local hard drive.  But what if your house were to burn down and destroy that backup hard drive?  What if a flood, tornado, or hurricane destroyed your home?  If you had backed up your data locally, (to a hard drive, or a computer), not only would your device(s) be lost, but your data would be lost as well.  Your Apple devices are tools that can easily be replaced.  With iCloud, your data can easily be restored. 

How is iCloud Different from iCloud Drive?

When we refer to iCloud, we are referring to all of the services it iCloud offers.  For your convenience, I have provided a chart of all of the services utilized by iCloud.  That is 56 services or aspects of your device that is affected by iCloud.

iCloud Drive is just one of those 56 services.  iCloud Drive can be compared to an internet hard drive, a place where you store all of your data on remote servers that are located throughout the world.  And those servers have backups of your data that are located in other parts of the world.  With your data dispersed over so many servers located in different parts of the world, how is it possible for your data to be secure?  That’s a great question, and I promise we will thoroughly address it in just a few minutes.  For now, however, understand that iCloud is so much more than iCloud Drive.  I encourage you to read through the list of services provided in the image able that iCloud touches.  iCloud does all of that for any and every Apple device you own.

How is iCloud Different from Other Cloud Platforms?

While iCloud is a storage service, the iCloud Drive is Apple’s version of Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox.

Google Drive

If you are an Android user, you will love Google Drive.  You can save your files, photos and documents to Google Drive, and your Chromebook, Android tablet and Android cell phone will automatically back up your data to their platform for you.

I don’t trust Google with my data.  They have left a bad taste in my mouth.  Google is a data mining company.  That’s how they built their search engine.  They have incorporated their search engine technology into their flagship e-mail program, Gmail, and I’m just not confident that Google is not, (or could not), read my e-mail. They also own YouTube, and they sensor opinions of people that don’t fall in line with what they agree with, and for me, censorship is a huge red flag.

OneDrive

If you are a user of Windows 10, you can take advantage of the fact that Microsoft’s OneDrive is embedded into the operating system by default. When creating documents, the AutoSave feature is great as it minimizes the chance of you losing a document you have been working on because you forgot to back it up. When installing Windows on a new computer, Microsoft is very aggressive in trying to get you to utilize OneDrive.  This is great for those who have bought into Microsoft 365, but very intruding for everyone else.

Dropbox

Drobox is popular as a storage facility.  It has tried to compete with other Cloud platforms by way of pricing, but in my experience, it’s just not as robust as other Cloud platforms.  For example, it uses a proprietary word processor called “Paper”, and though you can collaborate with other users at the same time, it feels slow and wanting.  I’m left asking, why are they trying to re-invent the wheel?

How Does iCloud Differ from These Cloud Services?

The Experience.  The number one priority for anything Apple does is the user experience. When I think of iCloud the word, simplicity comes to mind.  Apple makes it so simple that you don’t have to think about it.

What distinguishes iCloud over all other Cloud platforms is that iCloud was specifically designed to work flawlessly with every one of Apple’s devices right out of the box.  This includes the Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple Watch, and any other piece of communitive hardware that they may develop moving forward.

iCloud is not just an internet hard drive, like most other Cloud platforms.  While other Cloud services primarily emphasize their “drive” functionality, iCloud is deeply integrated into nearly every aspect of your Apple device.

Why Do I Need iCloud?

This is a hard question to answer.  After having used other cloud platforms extensively, I can say that as a Mac user, iCloud feels more natural, for sure.  I don’t have to do anything “extra” to get iCloud to work for me, it already is working for me.  For example, I don’t have to click FILE > SAVE.  It already did the job for me. 

Do I *need* to take advantage of all the free-already-included services afforded by iCloud?  No.  When using an Apple device, do I have to work hard NOT to use those services in order to use a different Cloud platform?  Yes.  The bottom line is that Apple makes is simple for you to just go about your work, without having to worry about how you will get the 56 services that iCloud offers you (for free), to work on another Cloud platform.

How Secure is iCloud?

End-to-end encryption, without questions, provide the highest level of data security.  Each and every apple device in the world has a unique one-of-a-kind key that is derived from the information on your device, combined with your device passcode.  Because your passcode is something that only you know, no one else is able to access or read your information without YOUR passcode, (your passcode is not your Apple ID Password, it is the code you enter to unlock your device).

According to Apple’s website:

iCloud secures your information by encrypting it when it’s in transit, storing it in iCloud in an encrypted format, and using secure tokens for authentication. For certain sensitive information, Apple uses end-to-end encryption. This means that only you can access your information, and only on devices where you’re signed into iCloud. No one else, not even Apple, can access end-to-end encrypted information.

I love that Apple prioritizes your security over convenience, so much so that,  not even Apple has access to my encrypted data.  You can read more on how much Apple values your privacy by reading another article I wrote entitled, “Why Apple?”, specifically, the section titled, “Privacy and Security is Paramount to Apple.”

How To Ensure Your IOS Device is Secure

iCloud is exceptionally secure, but let’s make sure that your IOS device is just as secure.  There are 2 things that you can do right now to maintain the security of your device and the data that resides on it.

  1. Keep your software up to date
    To ensure that you have the latest version of the operating system on your device, open the SETTINGS app > tap GENERAL > tap SOFTWARE UPDATE.
  2. Use Two-Factor Authentication
    In order for end-to-end encryption to work, you must have two-factor authentication turned on for your Apple ID.  You can make sure that it is enabled on your iPhone by opening the SETTINGS app > tap [your name] > PASSWORD & SECURITY > and enable TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION

iCloud Backups Includes All of the Following

By default, iCloud will back up all of the following for you every day provided that your device plugged in, connected to a Wi-Fi network, and your screen must be locked.  Usually, these three requirements are all at play when you are fast asleep, which is when your device will automatically back up all by itself.

App data

All local documents, files, and applications that reside on your device will be backed up.

Apple Watch Backups

All settings you have made on your Apple Watch will be backed up.

Device Settings

Any settings that you have modified since the device was originally set up will be backed up.

Home Screen and App Organization

Your screen layout, including the organization of folders and the apps with them is backed up every day.

iMessage, Text (SMS), and MMS Messages

Any text or you send or receive is automatically backed up.

Photos and Videos on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch

Every photo or video that you take from any of these devices will be backed up.

Purchase History

This includes any music, movies, TV shows, apps, or books that you have purchased.

Ringtones

Any ringtones that you have purchased or downloaded will be backed up.

Visual Voicemail password

The SIM card must have been in use after the last backup to be backed up.

Note that your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch backups will only backup the information for their respective device. 

What is NOT Backed Up?

Backups do not include information that is already stored in iCloud such as Contacts, Calendars, Bookmarks, Notes, Voice Memos3, Messages in iCloud, iCloud Photos, and shared photos.

How Do I Ensure that My Device Will be Backed up?

To make certain that iCloud Backup is turned on and ready to go, simply open the SETTINGS app on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, > tap [your name] at the top of the screen > tap iCloud > tap iCloud Backup and ensure that it is turned ON by tapping it so that the button turns green.

How Do I Increase My iCloud Storage?

Regardless of what device you purchase from Apple, you’ll get 5GB of free iCloud storage to house your photos, videos, files and documents.  Note that you do not get 5GB for each Apple device, the 5GB of disk space is assigned to your Apple ID.

For most people, especially for those who take a lot of pictures and record videos from their device, 5GB is just not enough.  Not to worry, Apple has a very affordable solution for you.  You can upgrade your storage plan from 5GB to 50GB, 200GB or even 2TB.  The great thing about upgrading your iCloud storage plan, is that your storage capacity is upgraded immediately.  Keep in mind, that your monthly payment date occurs on the date that you upgrade your plan.  If upgrading from an existing plan, that plan will automatically be canceled, and Apple will pro-rate your plan and charge you the difference.

How Much Storage Have I Used?

To find out how what storage plan you are currently in, how much storage you have used, and how much remaining storage is available to you, simply open the SETTINGS app on your iPhone, then tap [your name] at the top of the screen.  Now, tap iCLOUD, and you’ll see a visual representation how much storage you have used, and how much you still have available.

iCloud Storage Plans

You can change your iCloud Storage Plan, by opening the SETTINGS app on your iPhone, then tap [your name] at the top of the screen.  Now, tap iCLOUD, and then CHANGE STORAGE PLAN.  Note that it may take up to 30 seconds for the screen to appear, so be patient.  I it is here that you can either upgrade or downgrade your storage plan.

How Do I Share an iCloud Storage Plan with My Family?

We are going to address how to share an iCloud storage plan, but first, I want to remind you all of the benefits of setting up Family Sharing.

With Family Sharing, you can have up to six family members share App Store music, movies, TV shows and eBook purchases.  Additionally, you can share the following subscription services too, which include Apple Music Family Subscription, an Apple Arcade subscription, an Apple News+ subscription, an Apple TV+ subscription, and an iCloud storage plan.  What makes this great is that you can share all of this without sharing each other’s Apple accounts!

Once Family Sharing is set up, you can share a storage plan, which will allow each family member to back up their photos and documents, all of which stay private so that everyone keeps using their own accounts with iCloud, just as if each family member had their own storage plan.  So, instead of each family member having their own storage plan, you can have one Family Storage plan where each family member can’t see the documents, files or photos from any other family member, (unless shared).

The only requirement is that each family member must be running IOS 11 or newer.

Here are the steps you can take right now from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, to share a storage plan with your existing family members.

  1. Tap the SETTINGS app.
  2. Tap on [your name] at the top of the screen.
  3. Tap SET UP FAMILY STORAGE
  4. Tap GET STARTED
  5. Here, choose iCLOUD STORAGE as the first feature to share with your family.
  6. If necessary, upgrade to a 200 GB or 2TB plan, (I recommend that you start with the 200GB plan, and if you need, you can always upgrade to the 2TB plan at any time).
  7. Now, you will be prompted to use Messages to invite up to 5 people to join your family and share your storage plan.

If you would like to use your Mac, be sure that you are using macOS Catalina or later and follow these 5 simple steps:

  1. Click on the Apple menu at the top left side of your screen.
  2. Now click SYSTEM PREFERNCES > FAMILY SHARING
  3. Click iCLOUD STORAGE
  4. Click SHARE and choose the family members that you want to share your iCloud storage with.

Closing Thoughts

Cloud computing is here to stay, and though there are numerous Cloud platforms to choose from, the optimal Cloud Platform for all Apple devices is iCloud.  It offers an incredible user experience on multiple levels, as it touches nearly every aspect of the device.

iCloud will automatically back up all of your files, documents, settings, and photos on a daily basis for you, providing your with the best experience possible.


Jack has been helping people with computers needs for several years, and he loves to help people succeed. He brings a wealth of wisdom and insight from an entrepreneur's perspective and enjoys freelance writing. In fact, when he's not writing an article or working on his YouTube channel, you might find him binge-watching Suits or formatting his computer . . . again, just for fun. To learn more about Jack, click here.