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Clear thinking in the cloud

Many people remain confused about remote services however, from photo-sharing sites to email, such research has been in widespread use for years. Charles Arthur reports

Within hours, the internet was buzzing as people compared it against similar offerings just as Microsoft's Skydrive, Apple's iCloud and the independent companies Dropbox and Box. In the near future it had thousands of users, to add to the millions already using the existing services. And those were added to hundreds of millions of people who use webmail services just as Hotmail, Google Mail and Yahoo Mail.

For Britain's population, the "cloud" - storage and processing whose location isn't exactly known to the user - is becoming increasingly part of the fabric of our lives. Today, more than 36% of the population works on the move away from a specific office or at home; SMEs and the self-employed generate near 20% of GDP. More than half the population has a smartphone able to connect to the internet to download email, web pages and run apps which, like Dropbox, might pull or push data to other users. We don't think that internet connectivity happens in a particular place, to illustrate in an office with a terminal; it is the sort of thing that we expect everywhere, and we increasingly think the same about all our corporate data. If connectivity is all around, why isn't access to our data?

Another advantage of cloud services is that they can be elastic, which means they are able to cope with sudden spikes in demand. Amazon goes as far as branding its processing service "Elastic Cloud Computing", as a rule known as EC2. In doing so the organisers of Sport Relief, a classic example of a one-off event where even a brief loss of connectivity would mean lost money from pledges, turned to a cloud computing provider, in such a case Carrenza, a British business.

Broadly, when such services are introduced, about one third will embrace the ability to use multi-site collaboration and access their email or intranet wherever they are, like as not through a smartphone or tablet as then as a laptop. Another third will be indifferent, and take it in their stride. And the remainder will resist, and may cause headaches as they do so.

In fact, it's becoming difficult to find companies that aren't using the cloud in until further notice some way, he says. "Only 1% of companies in Europe that we surveyed weren't doing any cloud activity, however even they were thinking about it," he says. And there are clear benefits for IT departments: earlier, if a laptop was lost or stolen, it could be hard to be sure that any sensitive data was wiped. Yet smartphones and tablets that link to the cloud are simpler to track and wipe - and the devices themselves carry little cost, relatively, and are as easy otherwise more so to replace. The cloud isn't a remote place, as a matter of fact; often it sits right in our pockets.

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More information: Guardian.co