cloud application

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: How to evaluate, choose and work securely with cloud service providers

A cloud application (or cloud app) is an application program that functions in the cloud, with some characteristics of a pure desktop app and some characteristics of a pure Web app. A desktop app resides entirely on a single device at the user's location (it doesn't necessarily have to be a desktop computer). A Web app is stored entirely on a remote server and is delivered over the Internet through a browser interface.

Like desktop apps, cloud apps can provide fast responsiveness and can work offline. Like web apps, cloud apps need not permanently reside on the local device, but they can be easily updated online. Cloud apps are therefore under the user's constant control, yet they need not always consume storage space on the user's computer or communications device. Assuming that the user has a reasonably fast Internet connection, a well-written cloud app offers all the interactivity of a desktop app along with the portability of a Web app.

If you have a cloud app, it can be used by anyone with a Web browser and a communications device that can connect to the Internet. While tools exist and can be modified in the cloud, the actual user interface exists on the local device. The user can cache data locally, enabling full offline mode when desired. A cloud app, unlike a Web app, can be used on board an aircraft or in any other sensitive situation where wireless devices are not allowed, because the app will function even when the Internet connection is disabled. In addition, cloud apps can provide some functionality even when no Internet connection is available for extended periods (while camping in a remote wilderness, for example).

Cloud apps have become popular among people who share content on the Internet. Linebreak S.L., based in Spain, offers a cloud app named (appropriately enough) "CloudApp," which allows subscribers to share files, images, links, music, and videos. Amazon Web Services offers an "AppStore" that facilitates quick and easy deployment of programs and applications stored in the cloud. Google offers a solution called "AppEngine" that allows users to develop and run their own applications on Google's infrastructure. Google also offers a popular calendar (scheduling) cloud app.

This was last updated in May 2012

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