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Tech your facts: Is the cloud just someone else’s computer?

February 15, 2023

When talking or learning about the cloud, you may have heard someone say, “The cloud is just someone else’s computer.” Or “There is no cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer.” 

It’s a neat analogy, but does it do more harm than good? In this installment of “Tech your facts,” we break this analogy down to see what it gets right—and where it goes wrong.

“The cloud is just someone else’s computer”

The word "false" stylized to look like it's been stamped on the page in hot pink ink.

This analogy compares the cloud to someone else’s computer, or another computer in a different location maintained by a third party. It’s true that cloud computing involves other computers—but it isn’t simply one other computer in a different location. And that makes the cloud much more powerful than just someone else’s computer.

Cloud operates at a larger scale

Take cloud storage as an example. If you wanted, you could build a cloud storage solution for yourself and sync and access your data across multiple locations. But if you wanted the same capabilities as a cloud storage provider like Google Cloud Storage, Azure Blob Storage, or Amazon S3, you’d be much better off using their services rather than trying to build them yourself. 

Why? They operate on a vastly larger scale, which allows them to offer higher standards and more robust capabilities. For example, Amazon S3 is “designed to provide 99.999999999% durability and 99.99% availability of objects over a given year.” On your own, with just someone else’s computer, you wouldn’t be able to compete.

If you’re a software developer, do you need to know about the cloud? Yes, and this blog explains why.

Cloud improves data backup, recovery, and reliability

Let’s say you backup your data on someone else’s computer. If that computer goes down, or its hard drive breaks, you’ll need to get another computer and restore your data in order to have a backup. 

If you use a cloud storage platform, though, you don’t need to complete this backup process yourself. The platform has data backup, replication, versioning, and other controls already built into it. With versioning, for example, you can keep a historical record of all the real-time backups of your data. Even people with access to the data can’t delete or overwrite the old versions. As a result, you don’t lose any instance of your data between the time that it was written and the time of the backup.

Cloud providers like Google Cloud, Azure, and AWS can do this because they use data centers and replicate data across several different physical drives and locations. They’ve also developed processes for faulty hardware, disasters, and other potential issues. 

All of this improves their data backup, recovery, and reliability capabilities. Even if something happens to data in one of the data centers, the real-time backups across multiple locations minimize downtime and data loss. 

A single file stored in S3, for instance, will have at least three different copies in three different physical locations. So you would need at least three of “someone else’s computer” to match this capability—but far more when you also consider the redundancy and continuous integrity checking that is baked into the service.  

And that’s only for storage. The number grows when you consider accessing that file. For example, if your system needs to support reading that file 5,000 times per second (which S3 does support without any advance warning), that will require even more computers. That’s what makes the cloud more than just someone else’s computer. Operating on a much larger scale allows it to provide much better capabilities.

Cloud is (a lot) more than just someone else’s computer

When someone says, “The cloud is just someone else’s computer,” it may sound like using the cloud means doing the same thing in a different location. But using the cloud actually means transforming what you can do. 

Thanks to the cloud’s sheer scale, you can drastically improve your data storage, backups, analytics, and testing and development environments, among other things—far beyond what you could do with just someone else’s computer.

Is cloud more expensive than on-prem? Tech your facts about cloud costs.