In short, Cloud Computing is the virtual distribution of software and sometimes hardware over multiple machines, sported by a network and/or information system.
So what does that mean? Basically, one computer has the software installed and the others access it through the network. Now that network could be a local network or the internet. The most prominent form of Cloud Computing is web based applications; websites that are dedicated to preforming specific tasks instead of just displaying information.
Common examples of web based applications include YouTube, google drive, web based games and electronic commerce sites. Come to think of it Cloud computing shares a lot of its main ideas with old school Mainframe and Terminal technology.
So what can Cloud Computing do for Christians and the work done by the church? The question here should be what can't it do? But its more informative to do it the other way around.
A local System
A local system is limited by one thing - it can't be accessed over the net. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There may be information or data that is too sensitive to put on the internet. This flaw does not mean that this system is not useful but used for different reasons.
The most recent form of a local system I built was a PHP based program that allowed people to access service recordings if they happened to be a the church or at the church's coffee shop. To do this I had an old PC running a virtual server that was connected to a router that enabled other people to connect to the server and view the recordings through the use of their browser.
Let's expand on that last statement. A virtual server is an application that enables the use of services that supports web based applications or a website. By web based I mean that the virtual server allows the running and accessing of HTML, PHP and other web page formats/languages.
Web languages are all free to use and there is a wealth of resources on the internet and in books to assist you in using them. The other great thing about web languages is that you only have to write software once and it works on all platforms. By that I mean that you don't have to write a Windows version then a Mac version and then a Linux version as browsers all read the same languages.
Now you can run an actual server operating system but generally they are text prompt driven so you need a lot of expertise in order to make them do what you want them to do. A virtual servers are driven by a Graphical User Interface; this makes a virtual server more user friendly to work with. The use of a browser to access data and pages is not just exclusive to the internet. A browser can also be used on a local area network or a wider area network to access data and pages. In fact the internet is just a very big wider area network.
What else could be done with this set up? Well that all depends on what software is written. You could write a dynamic menu for your church's coffee shop that is accessible via a mobile phone's browser or software that allows the transfer of files between computers; connected to the network, if no one has a USB on Sunday or any thing you can imagine that would be a helpful application; the sky's the limit.
Now when I say the sky's the limit there are some limitations web languages have, so in reality it should be the sky's the limit within the scope of web languages. Keep in mind that web languages are limited for security and other reasons but that is not to say that you can't create a very, very wide range of applications with them.
On the other hand its amazing what you can do with modern day web languages compared to what they were capable of doing in the nineties and early two-thousands .
An internet system
There are two ways that you can think about this sort of system. The first is that you have a server that is connected to the internet via a router and modem and data and pages are accessible via the internet.
The second way is that you can let someone else take care of the hardware and services by using a website host. Writing software/web pages is the same as if you were doing it on a local server.
One of the things I did was to create web pages that helped the management of my church's website so someone else or myself didn't have to open a HTML page every time someone else or myself wanted to add content to the site.
To conclude the underlying theme seems to be that you can build any cloud based application that can do anything within the scope of web languages.
So in that case it seems to be very relevant to Christians because it is a way that we can further extend church operations and content into a new flexible and current media.
I guess the question should instead be, how can we use Cloud Computing Technology to further God's Kingdom?
Zach Radloff lives on the Gold Coast and is studying IT technology at university.
Zach Radloff's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/zach-radloff.html