What Is the Cloud? A Brief Guide for Veterinary Teams

Almost everyone has heard about ‘the cloud’—or heard someone say, “It’s in the cloud” or “Our software is cloud-based.” But do you really know what that means?

If you ask for clarification, there are a few answers you might hear: “It’s the internet” or “No servers needed.” Or my favorite: “You know, Google.”

Alternatively, you might be treated to a 20-minute monologue that starts with a discussion of mainframes and floppy disks and ends in a phrase like “triple redundant multi-cloud architecture.”

Let me save you from that experience. Here’s a simple explanation:

⛅ ‘The cloud’ describes a modern method where companies outsource the servers they use to store files and databases that run their websites and computer programs (ie, applications).

⛅ These servers are located in a data center—essentially a large warehouse full of computer servers. In the days before ‘the cloud,’ companies had to have their own computer server rooms. Today, we just rent servers from companies that specialize in managing data centers around the globe.

⛅ So basically, ‘the cloud’ is just a bunch of servers, located in data centers and connected to the internet.

And this all makes sense. When you need electricity at your office, no one considers installing a power plant room. Electricity has advanced to a point where you can simply pay as you go. These days, data storage and advanced software applications are no different.

There you have it. Now that you understand the basic workings of the cloud, let’s dive in a little deeper and see what it means for your veterinary hospital.

💾 The Start of the Cloud

Depending on who you ask, the term “cloud computing” was first used in 2006 by Google and Amazon to describe their new paradigm for how people access servers (compute power), software, and files on the internet. But others say it originated almost a decade earlier.

No matter who said it first, it’s now part of our day-to-day software lexicon. Computers connected together via a network (ie, the internet) have been around since the 1960s. The basics are still the same as they were before a new term was coined to describe it. So while ‘the cloud’ may be a relatively new term, the concept is not.

🏬 What Is a Data Center?

A data center is a warehouse that is specifically designed to house computers and keep them running without interruption. These facilities commonly have at least 2 power sources from different substations, state-of-the-art climate control, a huge amount of internet bandwidth, massive generators, battery back-up, and extremely tight security. This all comes at a very hefty price tag. Data centers often cost up to $1 million each.

🌎 Why Are Data Centers Global?

There are really two advantages to having data centers located around the world. The closer the data center is to the customers it serves, the faster it seems to the user.

This is because the time it takes for your computer to send a signal to the server and the server to respond is shorter if the two are closer together. Additionally, data centers on opposite sides of the planet will not be impacted by the same localized events (eg, earthquakes, power outages), thus making the storage and data safety more reliable.

☁️ Why the Cloud Is Better Than In-House Servers

There is a saying in the tech industry: “Software is hard and hardware is harder.” Usually, this is said in the context of actually creating software and hardware, but it fits well here, too.

In this context, the idea is that creating good software is hard, and keeping your software running is even harder. And that typically has a lot to do with the inherent challenges of hardware:

  • Servers will just stop working out of nowhere.
  • They have to constantly be updated.
  • You need staff on-site or at least on call 24/7/365.
  • Your office needs to be in a geographic area that isn’t prone to natural disasters, power outages, and a host of other things.

By using someone else’s servers—where their only job is to keep them running—you can focus resources on the products and services that you care about most.

💰 The Value of the Cloud

Software companies see value in specializing—the same way that your mechanic may only work on a few types of cars—and this is an area where that’s possible.

When software companies outsource the hard part (ie, creating data centers and managing servers), they can focus on building software that makes your life easier. Additionally, these expensive data centers and the dedicated teams that run them tend to be much more reliable than an in-house server staffed by a team that’s focused on a thousand other things.

So you might be thinking you now understand the cloud, but maybe now you’re wondering what cloud software actually is. If so, you’re probably not alone. The short answer? It’s just software that runs in the cloud.

But naturally, it’s technology, so it’s more complicated than that. We’ll tackle this question next! Stay tuned, and make sure you’re subscribed to our emails so you don’t miss the answer.

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