Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

SEVERAL hundred years ago, it was common practice to place your money or valuables under a mattress. Although this was convenient, one’s finances could easily be stolen, lost or simply forgotten.

Banks soon emerged to overcome this. Eventually, banking matured and even sceptics became comfortable with the notion of handing over their cash for safekeeping. Almost everyone now has access to a bank account and only a handful of conspiracy theorists question the fundamental value of this system.

Now we look to banks to keep our money safe and provide complementary services. Apart from giving us new ways to use our money, such as credit cards, we hope they will also invest it wisely.

We are seeing a similar trend emerge in cloud computing. To begin with, we all stored our data in our on-premises data centre, the IT equivalent of putting it under the mattress. Now the cloud is widely recognised as a reliable and safe repository.

Organisations are turning to companies to host their data, recognising that reputable cloud providers specialise in securing data. They offer the technology, expertise and cost efficiency that is very tough to match. Like a bank, they stand or fall on their ability to store, protect and make data available.

We are close to a time when cloud service providers will become the protected data repositories through which every company, organisation and individual will access information.

There are still some cloud sceptics who believe remotely hosted services are less reliable and remove control from the owner of the data, but they are increasingly in the minority as the economics and technical facts of cloud services become more compelling.

Just as banking quickly moved from simply storing dusty bank notes to providing added-value services, cloud service firms are doing the same with corporate data.

There has been a lot of talk about "big data" in recent years, but a great deal of the value is in the detail. The problem is that this metadata and detail are hard to find as they are hidden and disconnected across your organisation in multiple data stores. In e-mail, on personal hard disks, cloud services and data centres. As you consolidate, archive or store all your data on secure cloud services, you can make your data work harder for you. You can use it to drive improved business performance and decision-making.

Some companies have already begun implementing services that absorb corporate information of all shapes and sizes into a cloud-based information "banking" service — an interactive and active archive.

The only remaining challenge is cloud standardisation. Like the emerging financial industry of the 19th century, the cloud sector must evolve to offer a uniform set of practices that offer users peace of mind when accessing such a service.

The cloud industry is growing at a rapid rate, and these services are demonstrating the value that can be drawn from a cloud archive. Over time, a handful of "information banks" will emerge. You would not hide your cash beneath the mattress and expect it to earn interest, so why would you do the IT equivalent with your valuable data?

Murray is chief technology officer at Mimecast.