Our Heads in the Cloud?

The growth of tablets and other mobile devices has been matched by the growth of services in the Cloud. What do we mean by the Cloud (note the capital letter) and what do we need to look out for, either as a small business or a home user?

TClouds over Arisaig he Cloud has been around for a long time, although we haven’t used that name until recently. The Cloud is as a remote way of using software and storage – remote in the sense that you are using the Internet by way of a company that is providing the service.*

Some of you may have come across services such as BT Vault or Apple’s iCloud. These are basically storage services using the Cloud, but Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Google’s Google Drive are competing with each other offering free basic office software as well. So if you are using a tablet or a smartphone you can create and share documents on various different devices as well as your desktop or laptop.

If you think about it, we’ve been using this sort of service for quite a while when we handle our emails using the Internet rather than a locally installed program such as Windows Live Mail. They’re stored in your mailbox (under your email address) which is protected by your password. We’ve been using Cloud computing without realising it. Creating a document or a spreadsheet is just another step forward – although we are still in the early stages of using software like this online. Windows 8 users will now be asked to sign up to the Microsoft cloud, just as Apple users are encouraged to use its iCloud service.

Lots of us use the Cloud as a way of backing up our data – usually photographs and emails if we’re working from home, or important data if we’re running a small business. It is a fast and reliable way to keep copies of items that are important to you. And they can be accessed easily. However, there are still some question marks over how secure your data is in the Cloud. Dropbox have recently been told to get their act together because of flaws in its security systems which exposed users passwords to hackers if they looked hard enough.

Cloud services are developing very fast in line with tablets and smartphones. Our need to work while on the move, having somewhere to store easily accessible data, will increase and security procedures will become tighter. But unless you can trust the Cloud provider, think about how we handle our emails, then I think it is still a waiting game before we use Cloud computing on a regular basis. There are many advantages but still too many pitfalls before we can completely switch over from using software and storage locally to working remotely in the Cloud.

*The opposite of remote is local, using software and storage space on your own computer.