From time to time you’ll hear the word “cloud” tossed around in the world of technology, from accessible support services provided by Apple or Microsoft to a private infrastructure dedicated to a single organization.

In the strictest sense of the word, clouds might be a sign of an oncoming rainy day, but in this case they serve as a marketing term to describe a model of network computing where an application or program runs on a connected server or servers on a local computing device such as a PC, tablet, or smartphone.

Maybe you dropped your brand new iPhone or Android in your friend’s pool, or left it in a cab as you were frantically scrambling to make a flight. “Damn!” You might be thinking…”I’ve lost everything!”

Until you remember that you recently received a comforting message that “all of your information has been saved to the cloud.” You may not even understand what it means, but it feels like the loss of that one device does not necessarily mean all of your information or settings were lost. And that’s the beauty of cloud technology.

Cloud computing allows the user to connect with a server to perform a task – easy enough, a standard client-server model. In this case however it will appear to the user as if the “cloud” is a single device providing the necessary service, while in reality it is actually multiple independent “virtual” servers. They are working together to provide on-demand services, broad access across multiple devices, resource pooling, and the ability to adapt to workload changes.

Existing technologies and paradigms can therefore be adopted through the use of cloud computing, allowing users to benefit from all of the technologies despite the lack of expertise with each of them. By doing so, users can better focus on core business instead of dealing with IT obstacles.

The key to the technology is virtualization, which aims to use a single physical computing device to be partitioned into multiple devices, saving resources, time, and energy. I think it’s safe to say we could all use more time and energy!

Application programming interface (API) accessibility enables machines to interact with cloud software in the same way that your desktop PC allows interaction between humans and computers. As an added benefit, this helps to create device and location independence. Ever notice how you can use a web browser seamlessly from any device that you use, whether it be PC, tablet, or phone?  This is cloud technology at work.

More and more companies will be adopting cloud technology, as low-cost computers and storage devices that can work on high-capacity networks gain popularity.  This has led to the widespread adoption of hardware virtualization and service-oriented architectures.

If you have used a smartphone in the last few years, chances are you were utilizing cloud computing in some way.  Just try not to drop it in the pool next time!