Despite the ever-growing popularity of cloud computing in 2013, many vendors and industry experts still struggle to agree on a definitive meaning. To illustrate this point, let’s start with Wikipedia’s definition:

“Cloud computing is a colloquial expression used to describe a variety of different types of computing concepts that involve a large number of computers that are connected through a real-time communication network (typically the Internet)”.

Ambiguous at best. It’s no surprise then that Wikipedia goes on to describe the phrase ‘Cloud Computing’ as “a jargon term without a commonly accepted non-ambiguous scientific or technical definition”. This lack of public understanding has contributed to statistics such as the following:

  • 49% of people know that stormy weather doesn’t affect cloud computing services
  • 95% of people who claim they aren’t using the cloud actually are. They just don’t realise it
  • 22% of people have admitted to pretending they know what the cloud is.

Source: Citrix Cloud Survey

Definition through application

Definitions range from a new version of virtual servers to the extremely broad definition of anything beyond the firewall. So perhaps it’s easier to define cloud computing by its application. Storing sensitive or sentimental information on your private, physical storage devices (such as on your PC or an external hard-drive) leaves you open to the risk of losing data through loss or damage.

The cloud allows you to save this data in an external data storage centre, with professional safeguards against theft, damage or general data loss.

Another prolific example of cloud computing is the use of webmail. If you’ve ever used Gmail, Hotmail or Ymail then chances are you’ve already come into contact with cloud computing. The need to access your emails anywhere, anytime has led to the growth in popularity of web based emails. Webmail (as it’s commonly known) uses the same concept as storing your data online; information is stored externally in a data storage centre, which you can access from anywhere using the internet (the cloud!).

In relation to businesses using the cloud, the benefits are usually magnified due to the scope and cost of operating within a business context. On your home PC, the cloud allows you to store your images, MP3s, videos, software, emails and so on remotely. If your business has 5000 PCs and 5000 employees, then universal access to all files for all employees through the cloud can save valuable time and resources.

Arriving at a definition

Using the above scenarios, perhaps cloud computing should be defined as a term for anything that involves delivering hosted services over the Internet. But how is this differentiated from regular hosting? There are traditionally three distinctions:

  • On-demand: Cloud services are usually sold by the day, hour or even minute
  • Elasticity: The level of service (i.e. space provided) can be scaled up and down
  • PaaS: The provider typically manages everything as a ‘platform as a service’, meaning the user only needs a user name, password and access to the Internet.

The rise and rise of cloud computing

Regardless of the lack of clear definition, there can be no doubt regarding the importance of the term ‘cloud computing’ in the growth of the remote storage industry. It’s becoming so important, in fact, that David Mundell, Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, recently stated that cloud computing is key for Scottish Economic Growth.

The Cloud Industry Forum suggests that by the end of 2013, 75% of UK businesses will be using at least one type of cloud service and that 80% of existing cloud users will increase their spending on cloud computing. This advance in computing has revolutionised the way we think about information processing and information storage. Its impact on the processes of many organisations, regardless of size, acts as proof that cloud computing has genuine economic benefits.

The future of cloud computing

The rate of technological development and user adoption means that the landscape of remote storage is ever-changing. As the industry grows, more and more players are entering the market which promotes price differentiation and research & development efforts, which can only benefit the consumer in the long term. As cloud computing is slowly becoming the obvious choice for the masses, the reassurances around security and fail-safes will continue to develop, as will the level of standardisation across the industry.