What Do People Really Think the Cloud is?

“It’s kind of like a dump in the sky where everyone puts their stuff…”

“The cloud is basically a storage unit for the internet…”

“What the cloud actually is, is something smart that I don’t think I can understand…”

These statements are actually responses of real-life people being asked a simple question: “What do you think the cloud is?”  As part of a survey and study published by the Journal of Marketing Research in 2016, a various American audience was asked this question, with researchers in hope of finding out just how many people know what the cloud actually was.  “Our goal was to discover how many Americans actually knew what this ‘thing’ was they were using everyday,” quoted a head researcher from the study, “and the results were actually much different than we expected.”

Although way more than half of United States internet users interact with the cloud in some way everyday, very few of them actually realize this, and they don’t seem to enjoy trying to remember.  In another recent study, which focused on the cloud and cybersecurity, many of the survey participants mentioned that they felt “unsafe” online or that they were “intimidated by the cloud because they didn’t understand it and didn’t want someone else having access to their stuff.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 8.27.03 AM.png

Despite the crazy amount of personal information people post online, there are a surprising number of cloud users who claim to be “nervous about the repercussions” and are scared that “their security is severely compromised.”  Another commonality among this group is that they have very little concept of what the cloud is, what it does, or how they interact with it.  In fact another similar study, which showed similar results claimed that “people are scared about their privacy even more when it comes to the cloud because they don’t understand it, don’t feel as though they are in control, and therefore assume that it may not be secure or safe.”

“I don’t think that the cloud is inherently bad, but I can’t say for sure when I, myself,  don’t understand it, and other people do.”


Cloud Management and Security, 2014

So what according to the research overall, what do people think?  Do people know what the cloud is?  Do they have a guess?  Would people stop using the cloud if they knew more about it?  Would they actually use it more?  Combining a few surveys and research journal study findings together, there have been a few common categories that people fall into, when thinking about the cloud and what it means.

1) Something Software Engineers Use

This definition is one of the most common actually.  In fact, many people put it in the list of skills they read on software engineer job descriptions when they are trying to describe it.  However, although it might be safe to say that a software engineer may be more familiar with what the cloud or cloud computing is, it not something that only software engineers use or are impacted by.  A recent article published by Fox Business, explained that the cloud impacts more aspects of everyday life than Americans realize, and that having less than 10% of the population potentially understand the cloud accurately, may be limiting what they can do for themselves.

2) A Safe Place for Storage

Many people think of the cloud as a safe where they can put all their stuff, and the cloud will keep it safe for them.  They see it as a way to backup all of their information so that they won’t lose it if their device crashes or so that they don’t need to remember to save it on a flash drive.  Although this definition is not entirely wrong, many people are referring to the cloud as this because they are associating the cloud with iCloud by Apple, or a form of saving info in DropBox or Google Drive, none of which are the same thing.  There is a difference between cloud storage and cloud computing, but yet the two terms are often used interchangeably.

3) A DataBase

Out of the various definitions of the cloud that people think up, this one is probably the most accurate.  The cloud is a term referring to accessing computer, information technology (IT), and software applications through a network connection, often by accessing data centers using wide area networking (WAN) or Internet connectivity.  So, saying that the cloud is a database would not be entirely wrong, yet is still a little off.  Officially, the definition of a database is: a structured set of data held in a computer, especially one that is accessible in various ways.  Although many people do describe the cloud as a database, not many people actually know what a database is.  Yet, no one really refers to a database in this way or knows this definition.  People who consistently call the cloud a database should perhaps check into what they think a database is before continuing to call the cloud a database.

4) That One Thing That Controls Computers

One of the more surprising, yet popular opinions of the cloud, is that the cloud is the end-all-be-all of technology and is almost viewed like the “god of computers by some.”  One thing that needs to be made clear for those that view the cloud in this way is that the cloud is still a man-made form of computing, invented and established by software engineers working on ARPANET in the 1960’s.  Therefore, the idea of this mythical, powerful force should be proved wrong by this fact alone.  So why is this something that people think?  The way that the cloud is described online today, may be the reason for people holding this belief.  According to Cloud Analytics for Dummies, published in 2016, there are several keywords that exist in over 90% of cloud descriptions and simplified definitions that may play an impact in this.  Words and phrases like “the glue that binds” or “divinity of the internet” may written for the purpose of having an example to play off of for understanding purposes, yet for individuals that receive no further education than that, it may point towards an inaccurate definition.

5) An Actual Cloud

Believe it or not, many Americans, a third to be exact, actually believe that the cloud is a literal cloud.  Ideas like the weather can impact the accuracy and effectiveness of the cloud and that cloud computing actually has something to do with real-life clouds may seem crazy, but with a significant amount of the United States population believing that’s the case, it’s clear that the cloud has not been clearly explained in a way that people understand.  Yes, the cloud is often referred to as the high-level infrastructure of form of computing that seems to have this over-arching control, yet some type of drastic differentiation may need to be made to set the record straight: the cloud is not an actual cloud, and when storms happen, it does not produce real-life rain.

So What’s the Point?

So, does it really matter that Americans don’t understand the cloud?  Is it important?  When searching the internet, you will find articles and opinions leading both ways, with some saying that our misunderstanding is limiting us, and other opinions stating that taking the time to understand such a complex concept is a waste of time and shouldn’t be of concern.  It may be up to the individual to decide what their opinion is, and it may be best to understand where you fall in your own understanding before you try to decide whether or not it’s important to expand it.  However, hopefully whatever way you land, you found this post informative and were at least able to answer the question: what do Americans think the cloud really is?”


A Third Of Americans Think ‘The Cloud’ Is A Real Cloud. (2019, January 16). Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://blog.4psa.com/many-americans-think-the-cloud-is-a-real-cloud/

Abbadi, I. (2014). Cloud management and security. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Bhargave, R., Mantonakis, A., & White, K. (2016). The Cue-of-The-Cloud when reminders of online increase and choice. Journal of Marketing Research, 53(5), 699-711.

Cloud analytics for dummies: The ebook to help you leverage technology for advanced customer insight. (2016). CRM Magazine, 20(3), WP7.

Laskow, S. (2012, August 30). People think cloud computing involves actual clouds. Grist. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://grist.org/business-technology/126628/

Meine, B., & Winkler, J. (2011). Securing the cloud : Cloud computer security techniques and tactics (ITPro). Waltham, Mass.: Syngress.

Riungu-Kalliosaari, L., Taipale, O., & Smolander, K. (2012). Testing in the Cloud: Exploring the Practice. IEEE Software, 29(2), 46-51.

Roberts, L. G. (1986). ACM Conference on the History of Personal Workstations, HPW 1986 – Conference Proceedings, 51-58.

Salah, Khaled, Hammoud, Mohammad, & Zeadally, Sherali. (2015). Teaching Cybersecurity Using the Cloud. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, 8(4), 383-392.

Scipioni, J. (2016, October 17). Most Americans Don’t Understand ‘The Cloud,’ But They Should. Retrieved from https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/most-americans-dont-understand-the-cloud-but-they-should

Shore, M., & Lynda.com. (2015). Cybersecurity with Cloud Computing. Carpenteria, CA: Lynda.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s