Get into any conversation about mobile, data, or technology in general and there is a good chance the term the cloud will come up. Even though it has become an in vogue term, many people still struggle to put its meaning into words.

Let’s clear the air about the cloud.

What is the cloud? Simply put, the cloud is a group of remote servers where we can store all our data, files, and even software so it’s easily accessible through any internet-connected computer or mobile device.

Only a few years ago, our digital assets were isolated to individual hard drives but the walls came tumbling down as cloud computing emerged.

Remember when important files were scattered across the home computer, the office computer and a variety of discs and flash drives? The cloud is the reason those problems seem like they happened a lifetime ago.

The cloud in action

There are lots of everyday uses of the cloud, many of which were common long before the cloud was the cool new word. Here are a few examples:

  • Email: If you access your inbox through a web browser or mobile app you’re almost certainly using the cloud. Could you imagine not having this mode of communication at your fingertips?
  • Online banking: Not long ago, you had to go into a bank or reconcile your checkbook to figure out your account balance. Thanks to the cloud, you can access your bank account whenever you’re online.
  • Online storage: Using services like Dropbox and Google Drive, we can store and access gigabytes worth of files in the cloud, so they’re always in reach.
  • Cloud software: Accessing software through the cloud has so many advantages over installing it locally on a desktop. The biggest benefit is you can use it on any computer and invite others to log in and collaborate.

Misconceptions about the cloud

There will always be a segment of people wary of groundbreaking technology, and the cloud certainly has its fair share of critics. While it does have its shortcomings, much of the anti-cloud rhetoric is exaggerated. Let’s take a look at some common claims.

“A hacker can steal my data.”

The cloud is certainly susceptible to being hacked, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Keep close tabs on your computer and mobile devices and always use strong, unique passwords that are changed frequently. Also, do your due diligence when selecting a cloud provider.

The good ones will do everything they can to protect their users. They have to or their business will be in trouble.

“My data will be lost if the cloud goes down.”

It’s highly unlikely, since most cloud providers do routine backups to multiple servers. Your data is actually much safer in the cloud than on a desktop. If your computer gets lost, stolen, or destroyed then there is little chance of recovering locally-saved information.

“Cloud software is expensive.”

You usually subscribe to cloud software for a set monthly fee. Most providers offer different versions at varying prices so you only pay for the features you need. You can also cancel anytime.

When you buy desktop software, on the other hand, you own it. When a newer version comes out a year or so later, you have to buy that version too. Some desktop software companies don’t offer customer support for their older products, so their users feel forced to upgrade.

“I can lose control of my data.”

You can actually keep a close eye on your data in the cloud, since it’s always accessible. If you invite other users to collaborate, you can often control their level of access and cancel their login if needed.

Most of us have been using the cloud longer than we think. It’s just become far more common over the past few years with the rise of smartphones and tablets.

As technology continues to develop, there will likely be even more everyday ways we interact with the cloud so it’s important we understand what it is and how it works.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out Xero’s guide on cloud computing.

About the author: Dave Anderson is an Outreach Writer for Xero accounting software. He lives in San Francisco and enjoys writing about technology, entrepreneurship, marketing, and a variety of other topics.