What is "The Cloud"

What is the cloud?

You might have heard about ‘the cloud’ and wondered what it meant. In simple terms, it’s a way of describing data and applications that are stored online.

As little as a decade ago, programs were run directly from people’s computers. Users installed the software themselves onto the hard drive, usually from a CD-ROM. The data created by that software was also stored on the hard drive.

But as internet speeds have increased and data storage costs dropped, all of that is changing. Now many applications run at least partly online, from remote servers. And the data they generate is also stored on those servers.

This is a major change, and it’s happening fast. IBM recently estimated that 90 percent of all the digital data ever created was generated in the past two years. Much of that data is being stored online.

Businesses all over the world are moving to the cloud. There are good reasons for doing so, which we’ll explain in this guide. Then we'll look at cloud security and provide some useful tips that may help make your data – and your customers’ data – safer in the cloud.

This guide provides general advice on cloud security and isn’t intended to cover everything. After reading it, you should be more familiar with ways to secure your data in the cloud. But before you jump in, remember that nothing is ever 100 percent secure. Always get professional advice if you have concerns about the security of your data (whether in the cloud or otherwise).

Five key benefits of cloud computing

There are some significant benefits to businesses using the cloud:

  1. Lower IT costs but improved experience
    Software upgrades, patches and backups are vital to keeping a business running. Cloud applications do most of this for you, saving on your IT support bill. And cloud software is often based on an affordable monthly subscription – not a big capital expense. Why manage IT in-house when you can have experienced professionals doing it for you?
  2. Faster updates
    Cloud software is being developed all the time. New features are added and bugs are fixed as quickly as possible. This means you always have the latest software – no need to wait a year for the next version.
  3. Access from anywhere at any time
    Cloud applications aren’t tied to a single desktop computer. You can access your software and data from wherever you happen to be as long as you have an internet connection. With most programs, you can use a laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet. Many newer applications will run in a web browser on almost any device.
  4. Better business continuity
    Power outages, fires, floods, burglaries, earthquakes – all of these are potential business risks. Cloud-based companies can recover faster from disaster than those with data stored on-site. They could be up and running within hours, instead of weeks or longer.
  5. Greater agility
    Cloud systems are often able to share data or integrate with each other. This means you can process your information in new and useful ways. For example, cloud accounting software can integrate with cloud point-of-sale software. This means that your sales totals, stock orders and customer and supplier data flows easily between systems. You’ll be able to serve your customers better and adapt to their needs quickly.

How is the data stored?

One of the common questions people have about cloud computing is, "How is my data stored?". In most cases it's stored on servers in big data centres, which are secure and managed 24 hours a day.

And what about the journey between your computer and those data servers? Professional cloud applications use secure, encrypted connections. That means your data is encrypted on your computer before it's sent to the server – and also when it comes back again. This means that nobody can listen in to what's being sent or received.

Cloud software companies take data security very seriously and work hard to protect their customers' data. So you might be wondering how data is ever hacked. It does happen, but it's something you can help prevent. We'll look at that next.