By Rick Hillum, CEO, High Performance Computing (HPC) Wales

When confronted with the term ‘cloud computing’, business-owners would be forgiven for being confused as to what it actually means. After all, what do clouds have to do with computing? This often creates a barrier preventing firms from adopting a service that could improve efficiencies and performance across the board.

So why doesn’t everyone know what it is? A key problem with the phrase ‘cloud computing’ is that it is the pairing of two broad and vague terms that relate to a variety of services. These range across the whole computing sector, such as remote storage in the form of Dropbox or LiveDrive, hosted email accounts like Gmail and platforms offered to IT professional like Rackspace.

This typically leads to confusion about what in particular cloud computing can offer a firm and why it would be interested in the technology.

So what is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than on a local server or a personal computer’. Put simply, instead of storing and processing everything on one device, hardware can be used to remotely access and process huge amounts of data stored elsewhere, on-demand, freeing up valuable space and reducing the need for in-house processing power.

Cloud-based software applications such as the Adobe creative suite and the accounting package Sage can benefit companies across all sectors, providing a variety of services and benefits that many firms aren’t aware of.

So how can it be used?

Marketing firms using remote storage software such as Dropbox are able to store documents in the cloud, allowing all members of the account teams to have access to all relevant documents from any location. Cloud storage also enables easy sharing of large documents such as PowerPoint files with clients.

Retailers can benefit from cloud-based customer relationship management software platforms like Oracle Service Cloud. This allows stores to remotely access customer records across the company, making it easier and quicker for customer complaints to be resolved, leading to greater satisfaction in the long run.

Firms working in sectors such as life sciences, manufacturing and engineering, and energy and environment can even access advanced supercomputing technology via the cloud, to provide solutions like modelling and simulation, Big Data analytics and the rendering of 3D animations.

A project benefiting from this is Bloodhound SSC, a venture attempting to build the world’s first 1,000 mph car. It is using supercomputing technology in the cloud to simulate the car’s behaviour at unprecedented high speeds - a process that is essential for the success of the project. Supercomputing or high performance computing as its also known allows the Bloodhound project to create realistic flow diagrams, allowing them to establish how the car would react at high speeds and enabling them to make alterations at the early design stage, saving time and expense.

All of this is available through the cloud, unlocking vast potential to businesses of all sizes. The technology can help improve efficiency for firms across all different sectors and industries, whatever their size and spending power. However, because of the varying nature of cloud computing, support and training is critical to ensure your staff can make the most out of it. After all, if you have the most sophisticated computing technology in the world, what is it worth if you don’t know how to use it?