What is 'cloud storage'?
By now you've probably heard people talking enthusiastically about cloud storage or 'the cloud' as some magical entity that's revolutionising the way we consume media. This probably isn't far from the truth, although there are many widely available services that have used cloud storage as a way to store and retrieve content for a long time now.
Cloud storage, quite simply, is digital storage that's offered over the internet in large data centres. When you create or purchase content, it's stored online (i.e. 'in the cloud'), and any time you want to access it you can, using an Internet connection. Unlike local, physical storage like you'd have on a networked hard drive (NAS) or your computer, cloud storage is normally offered on a subscription basis, where you pay either monthly or annual fees to lease a given amount of storage space. Some services adopt a different model to this, offering unlimited storage and instead charging for the amount of data you upload or download from the cloud.
Many cloud storage services offer free storage too, although usually only for a very small amount of content or data.
Why would I use cloud storage?
The most obvious reason to use cloud storage is safety. Ten years ago, if you'd asked people what they would grab if their house was on fire, they'd have said their photo albums. While they may say the same thing today, the answer would be far more likely to involve some sort of digital storage - perhaps a hard drive, some DVDs full of digital photos, maybe a notebook. Storing your content 'in the cloud' means that you no longer have to worry about this. If your notebook's stolen, or if your hard drive dies, or even if your entire house burns down, all of your content is safely stored offsite.
Most reputable cloud storage and online backup services ensure that your data is backed up in more than one location, so that even if there's a fire in one data warehouse, your data will still exist and can be recovered.
Another advantage of using cloud storage is that your data is available wherever you are, provided that you have an Internet connection. If you travel a lot or want to share your content with others, this is a particularly useful feature.
What happens when I don't have an Internet connection?
If you don't have an Internet connection, you don't have access to your content. One option to get around this is to use cloud storage as a backup system or failsafe.