Everything you’ve always wanted to know about ‘the cloud’, but never asked. 

By now you would have heard quite a lot about ‘the cloud’. Firstly, the cloud isn’t actually a physical thing. It is just a network of servers, and each server performs a different function. Some are used for storage, others can be for applications or services.

The term ‘cloud computing’ has only entered the public sphere in the last 10 years, but, the concept has been in development for decades. Cloud computing describes the processes of sharing resources between devices to optimise performance. This means using a network of computers to store and process information, instead of just the one.

Cloud computing as a term has been around since the early 2000s, but the concept of computing-as-a-service has been around for much, much longer — as far back as the 1960s, when computer bureaus would allow companies to rent time on a mainframe, rather than have to buy one themselves.

These ‘time-sharing’ services were largely overtaken by the rise of the PC which made owning a computer much more affordable, and then by the rise of corporate data centres where companies would store vast amounts of data.

Cloud computing gained mainstream traction about ten years ago due to a number of factors, but the key was the widespread uptake in persistent high-speed internet connections. The rise in smart mobile devices and Wi-Fi technology allowed people to be mobile and always online. From this point, IT companies realised it is now safer and more efficient to store software and files online.

The modern notion of cloud computing has changed the way we interact with our devices. A laptop is now less like a standalone computer and more like a user terminal used to access data and files that are stored in the cloud.

By spreading the load across a number of very powerful servers, a user can run web-based applications with higher reliability and efficiency. The servers are also constantly updating, ensuring you have the most up to date software available. Another key feature of this technology is the reliability available, because if one server crashes there are multiple connected servers ready to take up the slack.

The exact benefits will vary according to the type of cloud service being used but, fundamentally, using cloud services means companies not having to buy or maintain their own computing infrastructure. Cloud computing has proven to be very popular at the enterprise level, as IT managers are concerned with the stabilisation and reliability of large networks with hundreds or thousands of users. However, anyone that uses common consumer products like iCloud or Google Drive have experienced cloud computing through cloud storage.

When moving to the cloud, businesses are often motivated by finances. Previously, organisations would have to buy their own hardware and equipment, which depreciate over time. Now organisations are utilising the cloud, so they only pay for what they need. This model also allows organisations to quickly scale up or down depending on their need and budget.

Cloud providers take security seriously. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a business, it’s that simple. Cloud providers take security so seriously that they employ dozens of different security frameworks and controls, much more than the typical company would in its own facilities. Under the new GDPR rules, which recently came into effect, cloud providers are now directly liable for sanctions and can face lawsuits if something goes wrong. The simple fact is, given this heightened regulatory environment, data in the cloud is likely to be more secure.

When you save something to the cloud, the file is transferred from your device to a hard drive located on a physical server, or potentially multiple servers that may be thousands of kilometres away. By doing this, no matter what happens to your device, you will always be able to access this file by downloading it from the server to the device you are using.