The cloud is the name given to a method of computing where the internet is used to store and access digital files. It is sometimes called cloud computing.

Rather than storing things like email, photos, music and documents on a physical device (be it a phone, tablet or laptop), they are sent through the internet to remote servers. When you need them, you get them back over the internet.

There are lots of cloud services, each doing slightly different things. Some store pictures, like Picasa and Facebook. Others like Spotify and Netflix deliver music or movies and some like BT Cloud back-up and store files.

Some programs that are too powerful for your phone are entirely based in the cloud, one example is Microsoft’s voice assistant Cortana, (see below).

Explore your free BT Extras

What’s so good about the cloud?

One huge advantage of the cloud is that copies of all your files (photos, music, work documents etc) are stored on a remote computer, instead of taking up space on a device. This is particularly useful for smartphones or tablets with limited storage.

The cloud acts as a backup. If you have photos stored in the cloud, and lose your mobile phone, for example, then your photos are safe. You’ll still be able to view and download them on your computer, or on your replacement phone.

Cloud-based services like Netflix let you stream movies using your internet connection, instead of having to download large files to your device.

Because cloud-based programs like BT Cloud and Google Docs can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, they can dramatically improve productivity.

Compose a document using (for example) Google Drive on your work PC and as you type all changes are automatically saved in the cloud. When you get home fire up Google Drive on a smartphone or tablet and you can continue working on the same document. No more emailing yourself files or saving to a USB stick. 

Share the document with colleagues and they too can view and edit the document from any computer.

As long as you’ve got a good internet connection you may not even realise the program or file is using the cloud instead of your device.

Can I store personal information in the cloud?

Many cloud services store your personal information, such as contact details, calendars, emails, to-do lists and notes, Android phones can sync all this information with your Google account.

This is great because if you add somebody’s phone number to your mobile phone, you can then see it on your tablet or computer. If you add a new event to a calendar at home, you will be able to see it when you’re out and about on your mobile phone.

Often these services are built into phones or tablets so you don’t have to spend much time setting them up.

[Related story: Eight things you need to know about the cloud]

What else does the cloud do?

The really clever part of the cloud is that it’s far more powerful than your mobile phone. So it can do things that a phone shouldn’t be capable of. Typically you won’t even know when this is happening.

Microsoft's Cortana for example, is a feature where you talk to your phone and it speaks answers. When you talk to Cortana, your voice is sent from the phone to powerful Microsoft servers based in the cloud that work out what you’re saying. It then tells Cortana how to respond. That’s why Cortana only works when you have the internet turned on.

How do I access the cloud?

Services that use the cloud generally require you to sign up for an account. Once you’ve set up a cloud account you can access it by typing the URL into any internet browser and logging in.

Some cloud services, such as Spotify and BT Cloud have apps, which you can use on a smartphone or tablet, rather than using a web browser.

Whichever method you use, all require a web connection.

Is the cloud expensive to use?

No. Most cloud-based services offer a certain amount of storage space free, which will be ample for most people.

BT offers all broadband customers 5GB, 100GB or 500GB depending on their broadband package.

Cloud-based services like Spotify or Netflix, where you are consuming music or movies, work on a subscription basis. Prices vary depending on the packages.

Cloud services use data, so ensure you have a healthy internet allowance on your phone. It depends on how many services you have, and how many you use.

If you are on a limited data plan, listen to music and watch movies over wi-fi, BT has 8 million hotspots free to BT customers. Read more in our article: 5 ways free wi-fi will make your life easier.

What is BT Cloud?

BT offers BT Cloud free to its broadband customers. BT Cloud enables you to backup files, pictures and videos and access them on the move. BT Cloud is a private service, so only you can access your files. BT also has strong security systems in place to keep them secure.

To accompany the service BT has released BT Cloud Android and iOS apps, which can be used for sharing links and uploading to Facebook and Twitter.

BT Broadband customers get 50GB, which can store around 70 movies or 25,000 documents, or a massive 500GB – that’s enough space to store up to 250,000 photographs.

Unlike other cloud services, BT Cloud doesn’t contribute towards a BT usage allowance, so you can use it as much as you want without worrying about incurring charges.

Find out more about BT Cloud >

BT Extras