Like a thunderstorm rolling in from Silicon Valley, cloud computing is quietly spreading over the internet skies, picking up speed as it changes the way creative professionals communicate, collaborate, and conduct their everyday business.
This slightly vague, loosely-defined concept of technology infrastructure that stores resources, data, and software in a location-independent mode has come to be known as cloud computing for its amorphous, pervasive quality.
Creatives and Cloud Computing
The biggest benefits that cloud computing offers to creative types are collaboration and convenience, says Bill Byrne, academic director of the Media Arts & Animation department at The Art Institute of Austin.
“When your materials are not local, they’re either web-based or public in some way, and not on your actual computer,” Byrne says. “They’re stored or rooted from someplace that’s on a server somewhere or in some sort of semi-public format, just not local to your own computer.”
While anyone with a computer and internet connection can take advantage of the cloud’s document repository through services such as Apple’s MobileMe, Dropbox, and Google Documents, specific cloud computing software caters to the needs of individual creative industries. Google Cloud Print, for example, allows graphic designers to hand off extremely large files to their partners at the printing press, while ShootQ handles the business concerns of professional photographers so that they can concentrate their time and energy on creative efforts.
Byrne himself uses Prezi software, which allows him to access presentations he’s created from any computer, anywhere. Byrne also cites the still-in-beta Ohm Studio, where musicians and audio production professionals can work on the same music in a live collaborative format.
“You’re opening up your computer to other people in the world and yourself,” Byrne says. “You’re less connected to your own personal computer, and you’re just able to be out there in the world more and not worried about what files you have on your person at one time.”
Cloud Computing Issues
But for all of its advantages, cloud computing does have a few rainy-day scenarios too, with security being the biggest threat. Creative professionals run the risk of having their intellectual property stolen by any web-savvy person motivated enough to retrieve private information, Byrne says.
A slightly less alarming concern is the problem of “too many cooks in the kitchen” that can occur in any collaborative environment. But the collaborative advantages that cloud computing offers usually outweigh the disadvantages, Byrne says. Because cloud computing allows more than one person to work on the same master document from more than one location, group projects now can avoid the problem of inconsistent naming conventions and confusion over updating the most recent version of the shared document, he says.
Josh Dolin, founder and principal of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based web design firm Tempo Creative, has been using cloud computing services to store his agency’s files for nearly three years.
“It’s huge with graphic design and IT in the past couple of years, because with outsourcing and people using designers and contractors all over the globe, it makes it easier for people to access their files,” says Dolin, author of The Web Guru Guide. “Before, people were FTP-ing files back and forth, but now they’re all on this cloud and everyone can access the files at the same time.”
Tempo Creative stores all of its projects and files on the cloud hosted by Chicago-based service 37 Signals. For the past six years, Tempo has also used 37 Signals’ platform to communicate with designers, clients, and web programmers, Dolin says.
For Dolin, the only drawback to storing information in the cloud is the rare occasion when the internet is inaccessible and a local backup copy of the necessary files doesn’t exist. Concerns about security are not an issue for him, he says.
“If you’re working with a reputable company, it’s no different than using email or other online services,” Dolin says. “The service we use has SSL encryption on it so it’s secure.”
Like Byrne, Dolin sees cloud computing’s benefits – namely collaboration and access – as offsetting the negatives. He shares the example of a team of graphic designers working on a brochure from different locations.
One designer might be working from a café; another might be on the other side of the country working from an office. No matter where they are, Dolin says, each team member can access the files and contribute to the brochure in one central location online.
“As internet speeds increase and more wireless internet is introduced, you’ll see cloud computing becoming the norm, even to the point where laptops and computers don’t even use hard drives anymore and it’s all done on the cloud,” Dolin says. “Literally, all storage and computers are moving toward that.”
Written by freelance talent for Ai InSite
Contributing writer for EDMC.