A new survey shows that “the cloud” is covering more and more of mainstream America. Not the white fluffy things in the sky that are also known by names such as cirrus and cumulus, but Internet-based services for storing, sharing and accessing data from any device and any location. However, while it’s clear the cloud is going mainstream, the survey also shows that people on Main Street are still pretty hazy about cloud computing. In fact, 22 percent of Americans admitted to pretending to know what the cloud is, especially in their jobs and even on a first date!

For Citrix, cloud computing is in our DNA – it’s what we sell to customers and how we run our company. For me personally, it’s how I live my life, from online banking and shopping to accessing my day-to-day work when I’m not in the office. We couldn’t exist without cloud computing. That’s why we were curious what mainstream America thinks about the cloud, and importantly, do they know that they’re using cloud computing?

This question was so intriguing that we decided to find the answer. We worked with Wakefield Research to conduct a survey of 1,000 Americans nationwide to learn what they think about cloud computing. The results are surprising, often funny, and definitely worth sharing.

Overall, we found that most Americans are still pretty foggy about the cloud. But the good news is that the more they learn about cloud computing, the more they see its benefits in their personal and professional lives.

To kick things off, the survey asked: “When you hear ‘the cloud,’ what is the first word or phrase that comes to mind?” Perhaps not surprisingly, only 16 percent thought of the cloud as a computer network used to store, access and share data from internet connected devices. The majority answered that it’s an actual cloud (“white and puffy”), the sky, or something related to weather, like rain, a tornado or thunder. With that, it’s interesting to note that half of Americans, including a majority of Millennials, believe that stormy weather would interfere with their cloud computing. Clearly, cloud computing is a cloudy subject.

To further underscore the point that people don’t really understand the cloud, one third of respondents said the cloud is a thing of the future and 15 percent said it’s intended for people who work in technology. Of particular significance, 54 percent claim they never use the cloud. However, 95 percent of those people who think they’re not using the cloud actually do so on a regular basis. For example:

  • 65 percent are banking online
  • 63 percent have shopped online
  • 58 percent use social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter
  • 45 percent have played online games
  • 29 percent store photos online
  • 22 percent store music or videos online
  • 19 percent use online file-sharing services

You get the idea. All of these are cloud-based services. If you have ever sent flowers to someone online, updated your Facebook profile from your smartphone, paid a bill from your computer or uploaded photos of your kids to Instagram, then you have used the cloud.

That’s what’s so fascinating about this survey – the massive disconnect between what Americans know (or think they know) and what they actually do when it comes to cloud computing. As a technology industry, we have to ask ourselves if it’s actually important that mainstream America realizes the cloud is now underpinning so much of their daily lives. Or, is it enough that it “just works”?

Interestingly, after being told what the cloud is as part of the survey process, Americans had strong feelings about the benefits of cloud computing.

  • Three in five (59 percent) believe the “workplace of the future” will exist entirely in the cloud.
  • 40 percent said accessing work information at home while in their “birthday suit” is an advantage to the cloud.
  • 35 percent said they appreciate the ability to share information with people they’d rather not interact with in person.
  • 33 percent said it allows them to tan on the beach and access computer files at the same time!

Clearly the cloud is letting us work in ways we never have before.

The survey also revealed America’s confidence in the cloud’s broader economic benefits. For example, 35 percent believe the cloud improves customer engagement for businesses, another 35 percent believes it helps consumers by lowering costs, and nearly as many say the cloud is a catalyst for small business growth (32 percent).

Altogether, this new Wakefield survey illustrates that cloud computing is taking root in mainstream American culture. While many are still just tuning in to the technology and its benefits, it’s clear that people are learning about the many ways cloud computing can improve their lives. We are on the cusp of an exciting next stage in the adoption of cloud computing.

It will be fascinating to revisit these results a year from now and see what kind of progress we have made. Meanwhile, you can find all the current survey results at http://www.citrix.com/cloud-confusion-survey.  Now tell me, how do you define the cloud?