Although you might not have realised, you’ve probably been connecting to the ‘the cloud’ for most of the past decade. The moment that you opened a hotmail account or registered with Facebook, the cloud became an integral part of your life.
You can access the cloud or ‘cloud computing’ via any device that has an internet connection. This internet service will then provide you with information that’s not stored on your machine, such as all ‘those’ photos on Facebook that cause you to grin and go red!
Cloud computing relies on sharing computing resources. But while internet-based computing is absolutely commonplace, it’s only recently that the world of cloud computing has become a competitive space, where computer users can now choose between different providers. And it’s because of this that we’re all talking about ‘the cloud’.
Dr Peter Chadha, CEO of DrPete, explains: “Instead of you running your own IT, and being stuck in wherever your house is, you’re allowing someone to run it, just like your electricity supply.
“In the same way that you don’t run your own generators, you allow someone like Google or Dropbox to run your stuff and look after it for you.”
As Jason Gilbert of Huffington Post US Tech explains: “If you have a Hotmail or MSN account, or are planning on buying a Windows 8 computer, you might try Microsoft's SkyDrive; if your email is on Gmail, Google Drive might be best for you.
“If you're an all-Apple-everything kind of guy or gal, iCloud might be the most convenient, and you can easily set it up to back up new photos and videos (instructions here). Dropbox, SugarSync and Box are older, equally popular options.”
Cloud computing transfers a great deal of responsibility from individual PC users, to large corporations, which has definitely has its benefits, explains Dr Chadha.
“In the old days, if you bought a car in the 1960s, there’s a chance that you would have to do lots of maintenance yourself, today it’s like a Formula One team doing the tuning of your systems.”
And in this sense, the idea is wonderful. Instead of being forced to wander from meeting to meeting, with your most important documents stored on a USB stick, those who use sharing sites such as Dropbox can rely upon instant access to everything they’ve ever written, with one click.
“Because it’s all in the ‘cloud’ it is available anywhere. So firstly cloud computing removes the headache of data storage, and secondly it means you can work and share your work anywhere,” says Dr Chadha
But is this all safe? Critics have a shopping list of worries about how the cloud may (and is) adversely affecting personal and professional computing practises.
From concerns about data security, to the power of cloud-based systems, such as Facebook to create overwhelming levels of traffic that could undermine business operations, the cloud has become a controversial subject.
Many IT experts believe that the benefits vastly outweigh any teething troubles relating to the security of personal and professional documents that are now being shared with abandon.
Mark Little, vice president and UK managing director of Intuit, told The Huffington Post UK: “Many barriers small companies may have faced in the past - an inability to break into international markets or the prohibitive cost of purchasing infrastructure or software for example - are being quickly broken down by technological innovations like the cloud.
"In its simplest role, cloud technology has allowed businesses unprecedented growth potential, through increased flexibility and reduced costs."
However, when it comes to personal use, there is increasing evidence that the public are simply unaware of how the system works, and so may not be aware of any precautions they may need to take.
According to a survey last year, most people actually think cloud computing is something to do with weather.
Dr Chadha says that all forms of data storage contain an inherent risk. If all your photos are on your home PC, then they could be at risk from natural disasters. If they’re stored on a hard drive, this could be damaged or lost. The key way to protect yourself from a personal security breach is to think about the problem logically.
“If you are a well known person and known to be wealthy, then you need to be extra secure. I know people who run email systems in Switzerland in caves for high-net worth individuals for whom the security has to be super duper high.
“But for normal people, the thing is to not put all your eggs in one basket.”
To ensure that your information is more difficult to hack, keep your passwords for cloud-based systems out of the cloud, this includes bank pin numbers, email sites, shopping and social media activity.
Dr Chadha adds: “Always think, what is the value of this data? How would they snoop about me? Have they got enough information to create something about me, so could they steal my ID, because I’ve got my date of birth on record?”
"But remember, you’ve also got to be a target. I have this phrase that I call ‘the power of the crowd’. Even if you’ve got data out there, but every other person has got data out there, it’s like being in a flock of birds, you get an element of protection.”
In the future, Dr Chadha says there will definitely problems for users of cloud-based services, and customers should consider having a variety of options.
“In the fullness of time, we’ll definitely hear about a cloud service not being available or being hacked, so understand the problems and take precautions now.”