Remote storage of company-sensitive information is not pie in the sky
WE all use cloud computing in some form or other. Your normal, web-based email program is based on the cloud. The emails are not stored on your computer, instead they are stored on Google, Yahoo and Hotmail's servers.
In recent years more and more firms have begun to provide additional services beyond just email.
Google Docs, which allows a user to "post" a file online which can then be accessed by others once they have the correct log in details, allows for easier collaboration between partners without having to go to the trouble of emailing a file back and forth and updating it one at a time.
Online retailer Amazon is now one of the best known providers of cloud computing services, especially to smaller businesses. The company's move into cloud services dates back to the early 2000s.
Like most big IT firms, Amazon only uses about 10pc of its server capacity most of the time, with the huge redundancy built in to deal with spikes in demand that rarely occur. Changes in internal work practices showed that smaller teams working remotely off the cloud were much more efficient than large teams working together.
In 2006 the company launched its Amazon Web Service (AWS), where companies pay to use Amazon's servers to run their IT business.
The business has proved incredibly valuable to Amazon, and has moved beyond the small business sector that originally started to use the service.
Pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer and on-demand movie service Net Flix have both reportedly signed up to Amazon's service, along with several other high-profile tech companies.
AWS earned notoriety last year when it apparently removed Wikileaks from its system, leading to the "Anonymous" group of hackers allegedly attempting to crash the site.
Google and IBM have become strong advocates of cloud computing, with Google using cloud technology for its Chrome web browser and its highly successful Android smartphone operating system -- which has become one of the world's most popular OS for smartphones, ahead of Apple and BlackBerry.
IBM and Microsoft have both built extensive cloud businesses, focused mainly on consulting and website hosting as well as infrastructure services.