Sky's the limit for storing lots of data
If the term "cloud computing" makes about as much sense to you as "cumulonimbus" (for the record, a cloud type associated with thunderstorms), you're not alone.
Many Americans believe "the cloud" is weather-related, or something to do with pillows, heaven, drugs, outer space and toilet paper, according to a survey of more than 1000 consumers there last year by market research firm Wakefield Research.
Cloud computing, also referred to as "the cloud", is when you access programs rather than having them stored in and running from your computer. With cloud computing the programs and your data can be stored on servers located anywhere in the world.
The cloud computing trend accelerated with the spread of broadband and the growth in connected mobile devices such as smartphones, netbooks and tablet computers - which are not designed to store oodles of data and run resource-hungry programs, but simply access them over the web.
Many of us use cloud services without even realising it. The Wakefield Research survey found 95 per cent of consumers were using cloud services, even though a third said the cloud was "a thing of the future".
Commonly used cloud services include online banking, web-based email services such as Hotmail and Gmail, Facebook, Apple's iCloud service and online storage services such as Dropbox and Microsoft's SkyDrive.
❏ You don't have to store chunky, memory-hungry programs on your computer and device.
❏ Many cloud services let you store more data or files - such as photos , documents and videos - over the web than your home devices have capacity for.
❏ You can access your programs and data from any web-connected device regardless of where you are - on your own computer at home or in a cyber-cafe in Geneva.
❏ Some cloud services allow you to easily share documents, photos and videos with family, colleagues and friends by giving you the option to make these files public or accessible online through a password.
❏ You won't lose data stored on cloud services should something happen to your computer.
❏ You need an internet connection to access cloud services - not always easy if you're out and about - and using the services will eat into your monthly home/mobile data allowance.
❏ Because your data is sent over the internet, stored on remote servers, and not on your hard drive, and often accessed with passwords - which can be hacked - security for your photos, documents and other data is taken out of your hands. This does not necessarily mean your data is unsafe and many cloud service providers take steps to keep it secure, such as encrypting data when it is sent over the internet and when it is stored on servers.
Keeping safe in the cloud:
❏ It's a good idea to check out a cloud service's security policy before signing up and do a quick Google to see if there have been any security issues.
❏ If you're accessing your cloud service through a web-based app - this is commonly the case - such as an online banking site then look out for "https" in the browser bar (before the URL) when you're on the site. This basically means that the site is using a more secure form of communication for your data than just "http".
❏ If you're using a password to access your cloud service, try and change it regularly and make it as difficult as you can - try not to use words found in the dictionary, but random collections of letters, symbols and numbers.
❏ If you're worried about security, don't store highly sensitive data in the cloud. Instead investigate other options including storing it on an external hard drive that you keep secure in your home.
Sources: HowStuffWorks, ZDNet, The Guardian.