There is currently a lot of noise and discussion about "the cloud," or cloud computing. Questions arise like, “Are you in the cloud?”

Technology plays a vital role in the ongoing success of any organization. Because technology can be difficult to understand and implement, it sometimes becomes a low priority and is often overlooked.

There is currently a lot of noise and discussion about "the cloud," or cloud computing. Questions arise like, “Are you in the cloud?”

One of the reasons the cloud is difficult to understand is that it means different things to different people, all dependent on who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. There is no real structure to it and each use of the cloud holds its own definition and value.

There are three basic groups that utilize and need the cloud. By understanding these three groups, you can decide how to make the cloud work for you.

Individuals: For individuals, the cloud is most commonly used in application-based forms. Many individuals use the cloud to store photos, videos and other personal data. The benefit the cloud provides in these instances is a resource to store this data somewhere other than personal equipment such as a laptop or PC.

In these instances, cloud-based users can store pictures and other files to a remote server and access them again at anytime from anywhere without fear that the files may be deleted and lost on their personal computer desktop. It significantly reduces the risk and liability of losing files.

A good example of a cloud application of this type is Dropbox. When I tell people that Dropbox is a cloud application, they’re surprised because the cloud is supposed to be so “difficult” to understand. Another popular example of a cloud-based storage application is Facebook — many people store their photos on the site.

Business: From a business perspective, companies of any size can use the cloud in ways similar to the individual applications described above, but with a focus on business needs and technology costs. When a business adopts the cloud, it allows users to access business resources like contracts, proposals, forms, templates and other documents from anywhere.

Email is a great example of a business application that can be moved to the cloud easily. Business professionals can access their email from anywhere and the business does not have to purchase or maintain hardware or software to provide remote email functionality. This creates a cost savings that in many cases makes sense for businesses.

The question that’s frequently asked is whether or not a business should put its entire infrastructure in the cloud. With technology, it’s best not to speak in definitive terms because more often than not it depends on the business and how they utilize technology. There is usually more than one way to approach any situation with technology — sometimes it makes sense to transition everything to the cloud but in other times it may not. In my experience, it’s best to approach these types of decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Providers: Cloud providers have created an environment in which a business (or individual) can purchase computing resources without the significant upfront cost of purchasing hardware. Because technology changes quickly, many companies refresh computers every three to five years.

Cloud providers offer the same computing resources through a subscription model, allowing companies to have the latest technology and features at a predictable monthly cost. The main benefit to this model is that for the most part, you are not locked in to a multi-year contract. However, over a three-to five-year period, the monthly cost of cloud service can be more expensive than purchasing the equipment up front. The cloud is incredibly valuable to all three groups, albeit for different reasons.

Josh Linton is the vice president of technology at VLCM, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary in 2013. Josh manages the company’s technical team that provides tech support and services to its clients. Josh graduated from BYU.