Leery about the cloud? Chances are you've been using it for years

Talk about the cloud makes some folks nervous. The thought of putting data up in the sky sets some folks on edge. Stand down, odds are you've been using the cloud for years.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

Talk about the cloud is becoming commonplace. The term itself invokes images of a remote place in the sky where people put their precious data, out of reach, and that makes some folks (and companies) downright nervous. It's human nature to want to keep stuff close and the thought of letting go and storing it somewhere "up there" is daunting for some. Truth is, fearing the cloud is unnecessary, especially considering most people have been using it for years.

Thinking about the cloud invokes an image of a giant nameless place far away where data is stored until needed. It's controlled by faceless people keeping the data safe, only allowing owners to access it when everything goes OK.

See related: ZDNet cloud coverage

The reality is far different. The cloud isn't a single place or entity way up high, it's a bunch of computer servers both big and small spread all over the globe. These servers are special data farms that exist to hold on to all kinds of data large and small that belongs to lots of people and companies. The data just sits there until individuals want to use it or modify it.

You may not know it but you're already using the cloud. While it may seem that email has always existed on individual computers, the fact is it's really based in the cloud.

The advantages of storing data in the cloud are numerous, not the least of which is protecting the data from loss due to machine or human failure. In the old days when an individual's hard drive failed it took all the data with it. The lack of a recent backup meant the data was lost forever.

With data in the cloud that's not a concern. The operators of individual "clouds" or servers keep everything backed up just in case, and often they employ storage redundancy for an additional level of recovery in the face of disaster. This makes the cloud far more secure for precious data than local user storage.

If you're still feeling a bit leery of the invisible cloud you might be surprised to know you've almost certainly been using it for years. This usage goes back to before it was called the cloud, but that's what it was.

Odds are you use email and have for years, which with rare exception has always been cloud-based. While it may seem that email has always existed on individual computers, the fact is it's really based in the cloud. All of the email resides on remote servers somewhere and our PCs and mobile devices are just windows into the cloud.

A good way to see the cloud in action is to have email open on a computer or tablet. Go to the inbox and display the list of email messages sitting there. Then go to your email app on a smartphone and go to the same place. Delete one or more messages either on the phone or the computer/tablet and watch the other gadget. You'll likely see the messages you deleted disappear on the other device.

That's because the email really lives in the cloud and all gadgetry used by individuals accesses the remote storage. That's pretty much the way it's been since the early days of email, so most have been using the cloud whether they knew it or not.

Another common use of the cloud is the calendar on your phone. Whether it's Google, Apple, Microsoft, or another service, it's fully cloud-based. That's the reason you can add a new appointment on your phone's calendar and have it show on your tablet. Like the email example above, delete an appointment on one device and watch it disappear on the other. 

So don't fear the cloud. You're already using it as demonstrated above so go ahead and put all your data "up there". It will almost certainly be more secure so the advantages outweigh the desire to have the data physically sitting on your desk. You might as well have professionals keeping your data safe for you.

There are plenty of options for cloud storage, both business and personal. Dropbox, Box.net, Skydrive, and Google Drive are just a few of the big ones. Give the cloud a try and see if you don't find storing your data remotely isn't so bad after all.

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