The notion of the Cloud seems to be installing itself firmly into not only our daily lives but also the future of technology.

The ephemeral term actually has more substance than one may think. Many use “the cloud” to refer to a virtual space where we can store and retrieve data. Loosely put, the cloud signifies software or services that exist and/or operate on the Internet. Instead of taking up a huge amount of space storing home videos on laptop memory, for example, users can store them online in the cloud instead, allowing them to access the videos from any computer and not just their laptop.

Mashable gives the term a more tangible form, describing the cloud as “a network of servers, and each server has a different function.” In other words, the online cloud space is created from a physical system of computers that are housed in a definite place. However, if the servers go down, the cloud still retains users’ stored data.

The number of companies that offer cloud services and technology is growing rapidly. Some well-known cloud-based operations include Google Drive, which allows Gmail account holders to store files on the Google Cloud, and Flickr, a popular online photograph storage site.

Some mobile devices host an optional link to the cloud for backup. For example, all contacts, photos, music, and more data on an iPhone can be synced to be automatically backed up on a personal iCloud account. A similar application, called Microsoft OneDrive, is available for non-Apple products.

Another advantage of cloud technology is the ease with which large documents or portfolios of work that would otherwise take up lots of storage space on a device can be viewed, edited, and/or shared. This allows teams to work together more efficiently on a single document without necessarily downloading it or having to attach revisions with each email. The company Dropbox offers document storage and sharing on the cloud, while Vimeo and YouTube are widely used platforms that run on cloud technology to allow video circulation.

The drawbacks to cloud computing may not be obvious at first. For one, the cloud isn’t hacker-proof. Breaches to personal cloud accounts are on the rise. With any publicly offered online service, and especially with one concerning personal data, there are always security risks. Another disadvantage is availability. As cloud services become more popular, the servers powering accounts may suffer downtime if not prepared for a large uptick in use.

For a deeper look into what the cloud is made of, read these:

“Too Embarrassed to Ask:  What Is ‘The Cloud’ and How Does It Work?” on Re/code

“What is ‘the Cloud’ — and Where Is It?” on Gizmodo

 “What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Cloud Computing?” on Techsoup.org

“The Top 150 Players in Cloud Computing” on Cloud Expo

“5 Reasons Cloud Computing is Key to Business Success” on Data Center Knowledge

 “What is Cloud Computing?” on PC Mag