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What is "The Cloud?"

How to think about this mysterious information storm we are all living under?

For years now, we have heard about "the cloud." Everywhere you turn, someone is pushing it as the "easy button" for all our problems. But WHAT IS IT? The easiest way to understand it is the old joke - "Someone else's computer." Instead of using your computer to store documents, look at pictures, or listen to music, you are using the internet (or some other network) to do it from the hardware you don't have to worry about. That is one of the most significant benefits of the cloud - you don't have to know anything about the hardware or how to keep it running. It just works for you somewhere in the great beyond.

That statement has a lot of strength - letting someone else handle the hassle can be a load off your shoulders, but there are drawbacks. One of them can be the load on your pocketbook. The cloud is not (usually) free - and even when it "is," there is often a catch. The adage that if you aren't paying for the product, you ARE the product holds true. Free storage space or email offerings come at the cost of advertising and mining your data. You can be billed in many ways:

  • Pay per machine (with better machines being more expensive and super low-power devices costing way less)

  • Pay for storage space

  • Pay for compute/memory usage (paying only for the resources you use)

  • Pay per month (for a specific tool or application)

Other weaknesses come in the form of access. Certainly, if you lose connection to the internet or your network, you will lose all access to what you are trying to accomplish. On top of that, if you decide to stop paying, you can lose access to your data or software. While some sites will let you export your data, others may not. Also, needs usually grow over time, so the cheap storage you got years ago can become way more expensive after storing years of photos and documents until you get to a point where the cost outweighs the benefit.

Here is a quick video from Linus Sebastian explaining the concept for folks who learn better by video.

Your Mileage Might Vary

Everyone has a different cost-benefit threshold, but here are some common uses for the cloud:

  • Storing and Sharing Documents and Photos (Like Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc.)

  • Word Processing and Spreadsheets (Google Docs/Sheets, Office 365, etc.)

  • Online Databases (Azure SQL, Firebase, etc.)

  • Editing Tools (Adobe Creative Cloud, Wix, etc.)

  • Meetings and Conference Calls (Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, etc.)

  • Collaboration and Messaging (Teams, Slack, Discord, etc.)

  • Chances are, if you can do it locally, someone is offering it in the cloud

How does Law Enforcement Use the Cloud?

You may already be using the cloud like everyone else. Some documents you save on your PC may be syncing among machines using cloud products like OneDrive or iCloud. You may also be using cloud email products like Gmail or Office 365. Certainly, at this point, all of us have suffered through at least a few online meetings. Yet law enforcement can have some unique uses. Some RMS products are now browser-based and offered in the cloud. Many on-premises solutions can also be hosted in the cloud now if desired. Even without going the entire Cloud RMS route, many of your services run on the cloud. Many of the 28s/29s you run are being ferried in the cloud—the same with many of your data-sharing queries. If you have a solution that involves e-filing, be it citations or state reporting, that almost certainly has at least one part utilizing the cloud. You don't have to take the step all at once, but it's worth evaluating if specific cloud options can make your life more manageable over time.


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