Cloud computing is probably one of the most transformational technologies of our time, but equally one of the most feared. But why? Well, ignorance is the root of most fears and there is a general lack of understanding about what cloud computing actually is.

We could probably look to place some of the blame on the marketing departments of the companies selling the technology. “The Cloud” is being pushed at us from all directions, but the term “Cloud Computing” doesn’t really explain an awful lot. It’s just a marketing term. And so technophobes lose interest, misunderstand it and develop a fear of the unknown.

So, let’s simplify things. For a start, there is no actual cloud involved (and yes, I did get asked that question recently). Cloud computing is not a new technology. If you’ve used Facebook or Hotmail, then you’ve used cloud computing.

All it means, is that instead of the software, applications or documents you are using being stored and saved on the server in your office (an on-premise solution), they are stored on somebody else’s servers and you access them over an internet connection. Typically, we are talking about data centres which contain racks and racks of servers, all accessed by customers on the outside.

So really, all you’re doing is moving your data elsewhere, and accessing it remotely.

But why would anybody want to do that? Well, for a start, it’s more cost effective. And when I say cost effective, it won’t necessarily be cheaper in the long run. In the long run the costs could equate to about the same (depending on the size of your business and the solution you choose), but what cloud does, is remove the upfront costs associated with an on-premise solution. Let me explain…

If you need to buy a server for your office, how much will it cost? £6,000? £10,000? Depends on the spec, but needless to say, a lot of money. And you need to maintain that server, or pay an IT company to maintain it. And you need to keep it cool, in an air-conditioned room. And you need to fix it when it breaks. Sound expensive? It is.

Now let’s look at a cloud solution. As an example I’ll take Microsoft’s Office 365 solution, which is a software that lets you use all your regular MS Office programmes, but over the internet. The cost? From just £6.50 per user per month.

Sounds a bit better than a 10 grand upfront payment doesn’t it!

But cost aside, people still have their reservations about cloud computing, and the biggest is probably security. If your data is removed from your premises, and stored on some servers in some warehouse somewhere, how do you know it will be safe?

Well, if you choose a good provider, then their data centre will be not far off indestructible –  24/7 security staff, state of the art CCTV, motion detection and key fob access – a multi-layered line of defence. It may also have full air conditioning, a VESDA smoke and fire protection system and is supplied by two national grid feeds with two 2MW generators providing enough energy to sustain a seven day power outage. So the chances of your data being lost of destroyed, are really very slim!

Microsoft has multiple data centres located around the world and they all back up to each other, so on the very rare chance that something does happen to one of the data centres, then your data is replicated, across the globe. Microsoft are so confident of their system that they guarantee a 99.9% financially backed uptime for all their customers. Could the same be said of your server in your office?

Of course some people simply don’t like the idea of their data being somebody else’s responsibility. But when you turn a light on, do you care where you electricity comes from? No, of course not. It’s just a service, and that is what cloud computing has done to IT – turned it into a service.

Of course, you have to bear data protection in mind. Some government organisations, for example, would not be allowed to store data outside of the UK, but that’s not to say that a data centre within the UK, even in the same town or city as the business, can’t be used.

And finally, there’s the benefit of flexibility. If you’re using cloud, and accessing your software and documents through an internet connection, then why do you need to be in the office? Well you don’t. So long as the internet connection is reliable, then you can log on and work from anywhere in the world and on practically any device – your laptop, your iPad, your smartphone… It makes working life a lot more flexible and can really increase productivity.

But of course there are pitfalls. Cloud computing might not be the best solution for you. It depends on the size of your company, your line of business, how you need your IT to work, and of course without good connectivity, then you’re likely to face problems.

But all in all, cloud computing is a better option for most businesses and as more and more people are starting to understand how it works, its popularity is growing.

Will it revolutionise the world? Probably not, but it will certainly change the way we work and the way we run our businesses. A change for the better? I’d say so. But if you’re feeling a little less scared about it all now, then why not give it a try and see for yourself?