A Cloud For Everything (Living In A Browser)

Written by Matthew Dudek

A recent report has stated that “Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of all notebook sales, up from negligible share in the prior year, and 8 percent of all computer and tablet sales through November….”  See Article This indicates that many people are finding they are able to function quite well utilizing only the software and services available to them via the Internet.  While it is quite a plunge to completely depend on an internet connection to conduct business, it is not as risky as you may think. (Yeah, I know- the Yahoo hack, the Target hack, and the LinkedIn hack all are horror stories of what can go wrong, but those are of little consequence if you closely follow some well-established best practices which I will describe in a moment.)

What is the “Cloud” exactly? Back a few years ago, the word “Outsourcing” was the key buzzword, and that is really the same thing.  The Cloud is really just a computer (system) most likely owned and operated by another company, located off-premises, that you use for your apps and data which you access via the Internet.  Another company has utilized the economies-of-scale model to set up a large system of powerful computers, and using large volume storage and licensing, offers rental of their resources to companies that need the computing power.  This works because the renting company can pay a lot less for the computing resources than if they had to purchase, run, and maintain their own systems in-house. This also works out well for the Cloud service providers who can offer their services and systems to thousands or millions of clients, thereby recouping (and then some) the expenditures used to build their large-scale system.  This is all due to the fact that no computer in a corporation is running at 100% CPU at all times or is using every last megabyte of storage on every computer in it’s organization.  The Cloud provider consolidates storage and resources so that full utilization is truly realized.

What is available to me in the “Cloud”?  A common term used is SaaS, which stands for Software as a Service.  Rather than buying and owning software that needs updates and licensing, a user or company can more cheaply use what the service provider has already paid for on a large-scale discount, which means that the software is always kept up-to-date, and the user pays a small subscription fee rather than a huge initial purchase price.  The most commonly used software such as email, word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation software are available from numerous online companies, and many specialized products can be found very readily doing some quick searches.  (For example, this article has been written on Google Docs and uploaded to our website housed on 1and1.com’s servers, all from within a Chrome browser.)  Since this blog is focused on document management, many Document Management companies have created very mature systems (such as DocStar’s DocStar ECM 3) that rival (and exceed) the capabilities of traditional installed software packages.  At this point, all applications I use throughout the day, including an MS Exchange-based email system housed at Intermedia.net, are accessible in Chrome.  There are also cloud-base file storage systems that can be used for day-to-day work as well as for backup and archive purposes.

As I alluded to in the beginning, this is all good if you manage it securely and safely.  All sites you use from the browser to do work needs to be secured by SSL, meaning you need to be sure you have a verified https:// prefix on the site’s address.  Also, using different passwords per site that are sufficiently complex is imperative (see GRC Passwords and GRC Haystacks for details).  The problem with managing many long, complex passwords is that they tend (for us carbon-based human types) to be somewhat forgettable.  However, several good, secure password managers exist such as LastPass (my favorite), and KeePass, as well as several more, including Firefox and Thunderbird which store the passwords within the browser itself.  They all allow you to remember only one strong master password, and then store all the other ones in an encrypted locker so that you can unlock and use them as needed.  Some, like LastPass will even generate completely random passwords for you on-the-fly, as well as sync your password list securely across multiple devices.

Give it a try- Spend an entire day with no other programs open on your computer except a Google Chrome browser.  You can do it!  Search the Google Web Store for specific solutions to your needs, look for online versions of your favorite programs.  Try out some of the cloud storage solutions such as Dropbox and Google Drive. It’s easier than you think!

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