Recently, a question was asked of me by a friend who isn’t particularly tech savvy. “What is cloud accounting”, he asked?
I pondered for a moment and answered as best I could. “Well…it’s an accounting application that runs in a web browser on the Internet instead of being downloaded and installed on your computer. You log into it from a browser and the data is securely stored ‘in the cloud'”. As soon as I said the word “cloud”, I knew, judging by his expression, that the next question was already being formed: “When you say ‘cloud’ what exactly do you mean?”
This was more challenging than I expected, particularly the “exactly” part. I went with: “A network of computers that store data or applications that are accessed remotely”. This seemed to satisfy my friend. I, on the other hand, had questions that only Google could answer.
I realized during this conversation, that the term is so ubiquitous, used or heard by so many, and yet, its meaning to laypeople is still fuzzy around the edges (much like a cloud come to think of it). I decided to do a little searching and reading. 8 or 9 browser tabs later, here’s what I found for anyone who likes to fall down rabbit holes.
Cloud computing is probably one of the most used tech terms on the Internet today. According to a 2011 MIT Technology Review (who tracked the coinage of the term), at that time a Google search of “cloud computing” returned 48 million results. Today (just 5 years later) a search of the term returns 135,000,000 results.
The term is used by those who know they use the cloud, those who don’t, and by those who insist they don’t but actually do 😉
Just a few years ago (2012), Citrix commissioned Wakefield Research to conduct a survey (PDF) to find out what people knew, or thought they knew about the cloud. Wakefield surveyed 1006 adults.
Answers to the survey showed that clearly the cloud was (and still may be) anything but clear:
- 51% of respondents thought that stormy weather affected cloud computing.
- 95% of respondents insisted that they don’t use the cloud, even though, upon further examination, it was apparent that they did.
- 1/3 of respondents thought the cloud was a thing of the future.
- 1/5 pretended to know what the cloud was while on a first date.
- 14% pretended to know what the cloud was during a job interview.
The intent of the survey wasn’t to poke fun at the respondents. It was an attempt to illustrate (as Citrix put it) “significant disconnect between what Americans know, and what they actually do, when it comes to cloud computing.”
As humorous as the answers may seem, they are also understandable. The term “cloud computing” is difficult to describe, even though many of us use the cloud every day (whether we know it or not). Because of how rapidly the cloud insinuated itself into daily work and entertainment, the cloud is something that many take for granted. Its familiarity to a layperson is similar to that of television. It’s just there and you use it. You’ve used TV for most of your life, know how to turn it on, enjoy watching it, but do you really understand how they get the little actors in the box? I don’t. (I’ll be Googling in a moment, though).
So what “exactly” (as my friend put it), is “cloud computing”? Here are a few definitions that may help.
Definitions of Cloud Computing
An all-compassing definition of “cloud computing” (PDF) was published by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2011. Without further ado, we give you that fully-realized definition of “cloud computing”:
Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. — NIST
The Citrix survey mentioned above contains a succinct definition that will probably resonate with many:
A computer network to store, access, and share data from internet connected devices — Citrix
16% of the survey respondents ticked this box as the answer to the question “What is cloud computing?”.
PC Mag Definition
PC Mag’s definition is also short and sweet:
Cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet. — Eric Griffith for PCMag
Cloud Computing. Term Origins (Maybe)
According to the MIT article cited above (and many others) the term “cloud computing” first appeared in print in a 1996 Compaq Computer Corporation business plan written by marketing executive George Favaloro. Interestingly, just a year later in 1997, Sean O’Sullivan of the then startup Netcentric Corporation filed an application to trademark the term, which he abandoned in 1999. Favaloro and O’Sullivan had crossed paths and brainstormed together while O’Sullivan was negotiating an investment with Compaq. O’Sullivan may have shared the idea with Favaloro or vice-versa. It’s impossible to know all of these years later. See the fascinating details over at Technology Review.
That ’96 Favaloro document (PDF) entitled “Internet Solutions Division Strategy for Cloud Computing” was penned nearly 20 years before the term trickled down to the mainstream, and quite accurately describes some of the key components of today’s cloud.
The emergence of the Internet is driving the migration of communication and collaboration applications into the Internet “cloud”. — George Favaloro, 1996
The document outlines for Compaq executives Internet-related opportunities for Enterprise/Fortune 2000 companies, small and medium-sized businesses, consumers and small office/home office users (SOHO). That document listed benefits for both Enterprise and SOHO users, including: intercompany connectivity, collaboration, remote access, Internet as a business resource, and Internet as an information resource. It is apparent that Mr. Favaloro polished his crystal ball the day he wrote that document.
What is the State of the Cloud Today?
Forbes article Round Up of Small and Medium Business Cloud Computing Forecasts reveals that:
37% of United States small businesses are adapted to the cloud, but an anticipated 78% will be fully cloud operational by 2020. 65% are conducting backoffice work including bookkeeping and accounting with cloud-based apps today. — Louis Columbus – Forbes Contributor
Want to read more about cloud growth? Check out the Right Scale 2016 State of the Cloud Report.
What Does the Cloud Mean When You Use Flare?
For a Flare accounting user’s purposes, the term “cloud” could be used interchangeably with “web-based”.
The Flare cloud accounting application means:
- The application resides securely on a server, and is accessed by and runs in a browser (on desktop, laptop, or tablet).
- You have secure, remote access.
- Data security and backups, updates and upgrades, are our responsibility and happen in the background with minimal disruption to the service. Except for your own good computer security and password security practices, you don’t have to “do” anything but have an account, log in and use Flare.
- No software or upgrade downloads, no installation.
- Fewer incompatibilities. Your system resources are freed up.
- You can collaborate with others by providing access.
Happy cloud accounting!