Open Thread: How Has Cloud Computing Changed the Way You Work?

Next month will see our cloud computing conference, Structure, return for its third year, which got me thinking about the impact of cloud computing on my web working.

Coupled with the increase in Internet bandwidth, cloud computing has facilitated the development of many of the fantastic web apps that I use and love today as services like Amazon’s EC2 and S3 and Google’s App Engine has lowered the app vendors’ startup costs and provided reliable scalability for when their user bases grow.

When it comes to mobility and collaboration, cloud computing has delivered advances that I already take for granted. Because I primarily work in the cloud, I can access my work from anywhere, using a multitude of devices. This is beneficial beyond just being able to hop between a desktop machine and a laptop. When most of one’s tools live online, switching from PC to Mac (or vice versa) is much less burdensome than it could have been in the past. And if I suddenly found that my main laptop had died, my Time Machine backup was corrupted and I only had in iPad¬† to work on — as happened to designer Shane Pearlman recently — it wouldn’t be an absolute disaster.

Having my work available online makes collaboration far easier than it ever was before. Rather than emailing files to my colleagues and trying (and failing) to keep track of all the different versions, using a tool like Google Docs means I can have one document that everyone can access — it’s even possible to have more than one person editing that document at any one time, if I wish. Couple that kind of access with project management and corporate social networking features and collaboration with the rest of my team, which is spread all over the globe, is a snap. And developers have seemingly only scratched the surface of the collaborative possibilities.

Personally, I love having all of my main work tools available in the cloud. It means I can always get at my work, whether I’m logging on with either of my laptops, on my phone, on a desktop machine or even using someone else’s computer — I simply open a browser, load up a few tabs and I’m ready to go.¬† If a hard drive failure or some other catastrophe strikes my computer, I know that my work is safe and I can get back up and running with minimal downtime.

While this veritable explosion of web apps has made all of our web working lives considerably easier, it’s also made things cheaper. While running a virtual team like WebWorkerDaily’s would still be possible without the cloud, it would probably be a lot more expensive. Instead of using an array of fairly inexpensive cloud-based tools, not only would we have to either buy or develop all the software we need, we’d also have to have the infrastructure on which to run it and hire additional staff just to keep the systems running. Without the cloud, many of the virtual businesses that have sprung up over the past few years wouldn’t exist, because the costs would be too prohibitive. And I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.

Of course, working in the cloud is not without its drawbacks and risks. It requires an Internet connection, and such connectivity is not yet ubiquitous. Data portability is also an issue, because once you start using a particular web app, it can be tricky to move your data to another service. There’s also the question of trusting web app vendors with your data — what happens if the vendor goes bust, corrupts your data somehow, or is hacked? Many of these issues can be mitigated, however — by having appropriate local backup strategies, for example — and some of them are being addressed by web app vendors themselves.

Cloud computing has clearly had a huge impact on my working life over the past few years, but I wanted to get the thoughts of the WWD readership: How has cloud computing changed the way that you work?

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