By now you’ve probably heard or read the term “cloud computing” and figured it was in the bailiwick of your IT department (or techie friends) and not really something a frequent traveller should bother with.
However, it might be time to get your head out of the clouds and learn more about “the cloud” because it’s becoming a more important part of a business traveller’s life.
The cloud is not really a place. It’s more of an idea: to store the programs and data from multiple electronic devices (such as your phone or laptop) somewhere on the internet, as opposed to a specific device. This way, you can access all your files and programs from anywhere, using any device.
Imagine you’re at your hotel and you want to write an important memo. Using your laptop or tablet, you would access a word processor Web site on the cloud (much like you open the Word program on your laptop now). After writing part of your memo and hitting save, the new document would be saved to your personal files on the cloud, not on your laptop.
Then you dash off to the airport. At airport security, you pull your laptop out if its bag, and (nightmare of nightmares) you drop it by mistake, cracking the screen and ruining the hard drive. However, your memo is safe because you stored it on the cloud, not on your hard drive. You can work on it again from your office computer, personal tablet or mobile phone.
You have probably already been cloud computing for several years and not known it. For example, internet email programs like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo store your emails on their servers. You can access these emails via your laptop, tablet or mobile phone. They don’t live on your laptop as they do when using programs such as Outlook. They live in the cloud.
If you share and view photos via Facebook or Flickr, you’ve been cloud computing, too. You are currently reading a column that BBC Travel has stored in the cloud for readers to access.
This week, Apple unveiled its much-anticipated iCloud service, which intends to move the hub of our digital lives off our PC’s and onto the cloud. Google, Microsoft and many of the other companies that business travellers rely on when on the road are charting a similar course.
But we’re not in the heavens yet. While internet access seems nearly ubiquitous, there are still plenty of gaps, and cloud computing largely depends on nearly universal internet access. Also, as much as business travellers would love to see universal free internet access, we are frequently faced with extra fees on trains, planes or at airports. The increasing prevalence of free access at hotels seems to be at a tipping point.
Here are five great things that cloud computing will do, at some point, for business travel:
It will lighten our loads
The electronics you carry will become much lighter and smaller. Hard drives and the extra batteries needed to keep them working are heavy. Devices that use programs and access data stored in the cloud will be smaller, lighter and more portable. Your laptop could soon be replaced by a new tablet computer like the iPad.
One of the biggest fears among business travellers is the loss, theft or meltdown of a laptop full of data that has not been recently backed up. When all your data is stored on the cloud, and automatically backed up to the cloud, that worry will dissipate. On the other hand, storage of sensitive data on the cloud instead of on our personal hard drives has its risks too – an issue cloud-computing companies must address.
More free time
Think about all the time you spend backing up or synching your various devices. Eventually, when everything is stored in the cloud, you’ll be able to access your data across all of your platforms and devices. No more time wasted moving photos and videos off your laptop and on to a hard drive to save disk space, or transferring documents from your laptop to your desktop, or vice versa.
We’ll spend less money
The devices you love, such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets will become less expensive without big hard drives or pricey software programs. While storage on the cloud is now free, up to certain limits, I bet that one day we’ll pay a small subscription fee to maintain and protect it.
It will no longer matter how many songs you can store on your iPod or iPhone since you’ll be accessing your library in the cloud. The in-room hotel or seatback movie will become anachronisms when you can choose from thousands of movies in the cloud.
Do you, or will you, trust the cloud to preserve and protect your data? Leave your comments on our Facebook page.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel.