Does anyone know what the cloud or cloud computing really means? I have noticed that many alleged experts on the subject do not commit to a rigorous definition. I suspect they are waiting to see what finally precipitates out of the “ether,” which will probably be driven by engineers and CAE users who routinely collaborate around the world.

But, I think I have an idea of what it may comprise. I read Getting Organized in the Google Era, by Douglas C. Merrill and James A. Martin. Merrill is a former Chief Information Officer of Google and presently the COO of new music for EMI Recorded music. He has defined Google in terms that only an insider could. Besides appreciating and understanding the motivation of its designers, Merrill says he uses the Google “suite” every day and could not function without it.

I was intrigued at the idea that I, too, might be able to find an easy way to organize my e-mail, documents, calendar, meetings, and Web sites as he did. I started by setting up a “cloud” gmail account. I receive more than 100 e-mails per day, and few are important to my job and life. But like you, I have to sort through them in Outlook to decide what I should keep or toss out. I thought I had a clever way to put e-mail in folders so I could retrieve them later; I felt organized. But I lost a lot of time eliminating the useless e-mails from my In box to tidy it up. Now, I just let my in box fill up and forward the e-mails that I need to my gmail account. That requires far fewer strokes and steals less time from my projects.

Google Mail has several other benefits, as well. It uses labels to identify my e-mails, and I can assign several different labels to the same e-mail. Labels appear on the left and may look like folders, but they are more flexible. I can leave all my e-mails in the Google in box too, because they are grouped together under individual labels. And I add key words to help in searches.

But Google Docs for collaboration is the place where I got most excited. I have three computers on my desk, and two other “mobile units.” Keeping them synchronized has always been time-consuming, difficult, and not very reliable. Now I don’t have to be concerned about transferring documents from one computer to another, especially when I travel. I put my working articles in Google Docs and have them with me – in the cloud – to use as I need them. In addition, other editors, regardless of their location, can still edit my articles, and our Art Director, Mark, can lay them out for me, all from the same Google Docs “home base.”

I should also mention Google Calendars. It is much better than all the others that I have used. I like to make more than one calendar. I have one for my work schedule that I share with the other editors, another private one for my life’s schedule, and yet another that I share with my wife. I can overlay them (with my tasks) at any time to see when I have conflicting appointments, then I make adjustments.

Okay, some of you may say, “Where has he been all this time?” I’m glad you said that. Well, not many of us have the time to shake down and sort out all the software that we are bombarded with. I use Microsoft Word every day, but I bet I know only 10% (or less) of its capability. I use only what I really need to keep up my terrifying pace and get my projects done as soon as I can. I depend on others to let me know how certain packages can help me without having to evaluate everything for myself on my own computer. Read the book – it will help you – and let our community know what you do to improve your efficiency and how you collaborate with less stress and wasted time.

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Comment by Alyssa Sittig on October 11, 2011 at 4:48pm

I do almost everything in the cloud (ex: music - Pandora, Spotify, mail - gmail, hotmail, et.all, and writing - Posterous, Google, Wordpress). As people have began to accept that we can trust the internet, and that its not going away - and that it makes our lives easier, it makes more and more sense to store things in it. Cloud is nice because it centralizes your data, and makes sure you can always access it from anywhere.

Individuals have adopted cloud much more willingly than business, but that is starting to change.

When it comes to manufacturing/engineering, I think there has been slower adoption of the cloud (compared to fields like Marketing where Salesforce has been dominating for awhile now) but things like PLM in the cloud have began to see increased adoption. (Article here http://www.arenasolutions.com/cloud-plm.html). The problem is some things, like CAD, have such large files that it will be harder to move it to the cloud, but I believe SolidWorks is trying to solve that problem as we speak.

Comment by Ward Holloway PE on March 3, 2011 at 12:48pm

CAELinux in the cloud.

This is an open source FEA and flow analysis package free for download. If you have a large model and not enough pc power you can rent processors and memory as needed. The package is hosted on the Amazon.com cloud.

Comment by Patrick Simon White on March 3, 2011 at 8:54am
Nice post John, I have an intensive IT background but like most I am slow to trust new technologies as they come out and prefer to stand back until the crowd has bench tested something marketed as great.. when I was younger I blew a lot of time and money trying to be on the cutting edge - all this said I have also encountered the cloud as a backup solution and also for document storage and i still have reservations of some etherial being or computer that can hold my data to ransom for the monthly fee.. I do applaud anyone who seeks new knowledge in technology especially in the world of IT - Pat :)

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