So You Want a New Website - Part III: The Cloud

What are "The Cloud" and CDNs?

A lot of silliness has been produced by—and heaped on—the "cloud" computing industry. But the industry itself is a very serious and very valuable one. Early on, certain tech companies would have had you believe that just because something was "cloud-based" it was superior to its non-cloud-based competitor. That quickly went out of fashion as consumers began to understand what "the cloud" actually is. When the norm in consumer computing was a desktop or laptop with a slow internet connection and gobs of hard-drive storage, "the cloud" was a slippery principle for a lot of consumers to understand. But for better or worse, it has become the accepted term for "a computer somewhere else" that's set up to do a specific task, whether it's hosting an application, storing your files, or whatever. If you use Google Docs, Dropbox, or Microsoft's online Office suite, then you're using the cloud.

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Eventually, we predict, the term "cloud" will become a rarely-used term, and maybe fall out of use entirely, as it becomes the norm for storage and application delivery that PC-based hard drives and applications once were. We predict that very few applications or files will reside on your device. The need to distinguish "the cloud" from "your apps and data on your computer" will largely be gone.

What does the cloud mean for you and your business website?

Websites are already hosted "somewhere else," but in the context of your business website, "the cloud" refers to the place where all of your frequently-used images, videos, and documents need to live. Those big beautiful photos on your home page that grab your visitors' attention, that big PDF that gets downloaded dozens or hundreds of times a day, those videos that show off your company - all of them need to live in the cloud in a special storage system called a CDN, or "content distribution network."

A CDN is a series of connected cloud computers designed for one purpose: To serve files to a lot of people very fast, no matter where in the world they are. They are located in strategic spots around the world, as close to internet "backbones" (the highest capacity "pipes" the internet has to offer) as possible, and contain multiple copies of your files. CDN's know where your visitors are, and serve up your files from storage systems closest to them. That's a very simplified explanation, but the concept should be clear: CDN's are wonderful things, offering speed and redundancy, and they're where files frequently served to your visitors should be stored. If your web developer doesn't offer this as an option, it might be time to find another web developer.

Next in this series: We talk about the importance of backups and security >>