This relatively new word has quickly entered our daily vernacular. Techies sprinkle the word into their discussions as much as possible, but in reality, more than half of us do not know what it is. And if you are in that segment…don’t worry because you are not alone. My goal in this article is to explain the basic concept of the cloud.

To some degree the cloud has been around since we all started using the Internet. In the early days of the Internet, we would use the words “web based” instead of “cloud based” when referring to a program or application we used on the Internet. Early email platforms like Hotmail were cloud based. The once Internet giant AOL was for all practical purposes a cloud based solution. Anytime you went online to book an airplane, you were using a cloud based program.

What cloud based really means is using a program, application or service that is wholly managed through the Internet. Facebook is probably the best example of a cloud based program. When you login, your posts, friends and info are all there. Nothing is stored on your PC. In fact, you cannot even use Facebook unless you are connected to the web. In contrast, think about using Microsoft Word on your PC where the program and the file you are creating is all stored on that PC and that PC only.

The basic tenant of a cloud based solution is that your machine does little if any of the work; all of the processing, data storage and work is done by the equipment owned by the company providing the service. In this manner it is a very efficient solution for the company providing the service because any updates or changes in the program or application can be handled by them under their own terms. Rather than buying the whole Adobe Creative Suite software package, (PhotoShop ,Illustrator, Acrobat..)you can now become a user from the cloud and get the latest updates as they are released. This video demonstrates the concept very nicely.

The biggest benefit of the cloud to the user is consistency and reliability. Do you ever doubt that Facebook won’t work or that your profile will be gone? Probably not. Or if so, your doubt is small. And this is what the cloud does best; giving us the users a predictable experience without having to mess with software updates, file mismatches and saving our data. It just happens.

The major downside to cloud applications is that you need the Internet to use them. Some cloud based business applications allow a measure of “offline” functionality, but at the core of it, you must have a connection to the web.

A perceived downside is security. Many people including top level CTO’s are fearful of the security of the cloud. They fear that the data can get hacked and used for nefarious purposes. In my opinion, the risk of this is actually smaller than the risk of storing info on your personal PC. The reason is that these cloud providers have the very latest servers with the very latest anti-virus and anti-hacking platforms that are much more highly protected than your personal PC. In short, their equipment and software is always state-of-the art because it has to be.

Hopefully with this article you have learned that the cloud is a term used to describe programs and applications that are managed on the internet. These solutions provide us a reliable and consistent method for using a given application. The downside is that we need to be connected to the web to use them, but given the almost ubiquitous access we have to the web this too is a minor concern. Lastly, hopefully you have learned that although nothing is 100% safe, data stored in a cloud solution is likely more safe and reliable than the data on your own PC.