It’s hard to believe, but it’s only been about 10 years since we stopped storing information on floppy disks. For those of us who can remember, the 5 ¼” floppy disk was a flimsy magnetic disk stored in a paper sleeve (because a little dust or dirt would render it useless) that held 1.2 MB of data (that’s less than half a song or about three seconds of a movie). The 3.5” floppy was a minor improvement, but it still could only store a handful of documents or a few low-res images.
Carrying around files on disks may seem like a strange concept today, but as Ibrahim reminded us in his Throwback to the Future blog post a few weeks ago, the only internet access available to us at the time was delivered through a painfully slow modem that chirped and squeaked like R2-D2. So, despite their limitations, for more than two decades floppy disks were our primary solution for saving our personal data.
Technology has come a long way. Today we can store thousands of photos and entire music collections in our pockets and ever-increasing network speeds allow us to transfer large amounts of data between devices very quickly. But even with these advancements, we’re still storing some of the most important and personal information about our lives in rather rudimentary ways: family photos in albums, tax returns in a filing cabinet, and (my all-time favorite) medical records in handwritten files in our doctor’s office. We’ve migrated some personal data to computers and other devices, but this information can easily be lost, stolen or destroyed. There’s a silver lining though: cloud computing is changing everything.
So what is cloud computing? Put simply, it’s using remote storage and computing power to view and manage large amounts of data over the internet. Instead of saving information on our computers, smartphones or local servers, it’s stored in data centres with enormous storage and processing capabilities. Digital storage technology has advanced so rapidly that instead of Megabytes, Gigabytes, or even Terabytes, we’re now thinking about storage in Petabytes (the equivalent of more than 500 million floppy disks). To put that into perspective, a Petabyte of data is enough to stream more than 2,000 years’ worth of music or 13.3 years of high-definition video. Data centres can vary greatly in size and storage capacity – from tiny to massive – but to give you an example, a single TELUS data centre can store more than 500 Petabytes of data and new technology is allowing us to constantly increase the amount of storage and computing power available.
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve already moved many aspects of your life to the cloud – Gmail, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, iTunes music, YouTube videos and Dropbox files – but we’ve yet to scratch the surface of the potential that cloud technology has to transform our lives. As storage capacity becomes almost infinite and high-speed broadband access becomes ubiquitous, cloud computing opens up a world of possibilities by making massive amounts of data accessible anytime, anywhere. We’re about to see a wave of smart technology with the huge potential to make our lives easier, more enjoyable and even help us live longer, all thanks to the cloud.
The Internet of Things (IoT), like connected cars, intelligent kitchen appliances and thermostats that learn, will rely on the cloud to store and analyze massive amounts of “Big Data.” Cisco predicts that there will be 50 billion connected “things” globally by 2020 and the cloud will provide the secure storage and analytics required to make intelligent real-time decisions for billions of devices.
It’s not just “things” that will be generating data; human beings will too, and the cloud will play an integral role in our personal health. Today, the cloud improves healthcare by providing doctors with secure access to electronic medical records no matter where a patient is being treated, but that’s just the beginning. Soon, ingestible technology and wearable sensors will provide the ability to collect and analyze readings from our bodies (e.g., heart rate, blood sugar, brain patterns, cell count). Devices like digital pills that measure physiologic responses or smart contact lenses that monitor blood sugar levels will send data to the cloud where health professionals can monitor and track our health in real time. Imagine being able to detect anomalies in your body to identify the earliest stages of diseases like cancer, or understanding precisely how your body reacts to different foods to create the perfect diet for weight loss or optimal athletic performance – all this will be possible by unlocking the information stored in the cloud.
As advancements in cloud computing, IoT, wearables and wireless converge, the opportunities for technology to improve our lives are almost limitless. Everything in our lives will be connected and we’ll be generating unprecedented amounts of data that will be stored and analyzed in the cloud. Imagine being able to record every moment in your life and save it in high-definition video. We’ll have the ability to relive any memory or share any experience. It’s coming soon to a cloud near you.