It has been one of those words that slowly slips its way into common consciousness.
Just a few years ago, the word "cloud" had a very different meaning and even those who had a vague sense of the importance of the concept as it relates to technology did not really understand what it is. Now, whether it's video games, Web hosting, Office documents, videos, music, or photos, everything exists in the cloud.
The days of being shackled to a device are over and data is accessible virtually everywhere. This also means the days of not being able to work on something because you "left it at the office" are over. Shared documents have been around for years, but now the cloud has come to encompass much more than Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Docs and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Office files.
The cloud is everywhere and it's changing how we work, where we work, and the established patterns of the American workday. That's not always a good thing, but it's undeniable and it's probably impossible to turn the clock back.
The cloud for productivity anywhere
While shared documents have been around for decades, it's only recently that they have become the norm rather than an exception. Instead of having to upload a document to the cloud, cheap (and even free) storage space has made saving to the cloud the default for many users.
Microsoft offers users a minimum of 1TB of free storage when they subscribe to Office 365. Google only offers 15GB for free, but "anything you've made with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides won't count toward your storage limit," according to the company. Even DropBox, one of many cloud storage options, offers 2GB free with 1TB only costing $9.99 a month.
Basically, free cloud storage has eliminated the idea of being tethered to any single device or location. That's not only convenient for an individual worker, it also enables collaboration.
The cloud has changed everything for workers
One benefit of the cloud (though some would argue it's not such a benefit) is that workers can now work wherever and whenever. This means that the workday is no longer constrained by the traditional 9-5 structure and location has never meant less.
This offers some positives. People are more accessible than ever before and the cloud makes it easy for data to be accessed from any location. Additionally, employees at many companies are able to leverage this to have more flexible work schedules or even work remotely. Of course, this can also be a negative as the notion of work/life balance has suffered now that access to an office no longer constrains work.
The cloud is the future
We are only in the early days of the cloud's coming dominance. This past holiday season was the first to feature devices with limited on-board storage, connected to near-limitless cloud capacity. Laptops like the HP Stream 11 were sold for under $200 partially because they lack large, internal hard drives. This type of device builds upon the model of the Google Chromebook, which has proven popular in the education space.
Cheap devices and and the ability to work wherever, whenever are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of the cloud. In coming years, we are likely to see content become device-agnostic. That could spell the end of game consoles and other dedicated devices. We're also likely to see an increasing amount of global collaboration as the cloud makes location continually less relevant to workflow.
The cloud isn't just another buzzword to throw onto a spreadsheet. It's a wholesale revamp of how -- and sometimes where -- we do business.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. He wrote this on a day where there was not a cloud in the sky. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.