Ah, cloud computing. It now seems firmly entrenched in enterprises across the world but it’s fair to say it has been a bumpy ride to get there. The benefits of cloud computing have been questioned by those worried about its security, whether it is actually cheaper long-term, whether it meets regulations in certain geographies and whether it represents a loss of control of an organisation’s data.

There is another issue that seems to be causing a few headaches for some, and that is a lack of a clear, universally agreed definition of what cloud computing actually is. The research and analysis companies have their own definitions, as do many of the vendors. But although they are all obviously very similar, having no clear definition for cloud computing (beyond “accessing stuff online”) means some individuals and even entire organisations may claim to not be using cloud computing when in fact they are.

Most surveys simply reveal just how confused some people are about cloud computing. When asked what “the cloud” means, answers can range from “something to do with the weather” to “something to do with toilet paper”. Significantly, it is not uncommon, when questioned, for respondents to say that they have never used cloud computing.

But that of course is not right. Anyone who has used email from Google, Yahoo or Microsoft has used cloud computing. Anyone who has used Flickr or bought something from Amazon or stored their files on Dropbox has used cloud computing, even if they may not have known it as that.

Chances are, your business is already using cloud computing. It may not be something as recognisably “cloud computing” as using CRM from saleforce.com, Amazon’s EC2 or Google’s Apps engine, its cloud-based rival to Microsoft’s Office suite, but trust me, it’s there.

How many of your workers store and send files to not only each other but also to contacts outside the business via cloud services like Dropbox? How many use Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms from the likes of Amazon, Rackspace or Google to spin up more computing resources when they are needed? How many have used cloud-based personal email services like Gmail when something has gone wrong with Exchange?

And of these and the countless other examples of cloud computing being used in businesses how many were approved and officially adopted by IT? Certainly not all of them, that’s for sure.

That’s a problem for businesses because if IT hasn’t approved the use of something like this and isn’t even aware it’s happening, it cannot control it. IT cannot control what data is being sent outside the firewall and it cannot control where it goes. That has obvious and serious security implications.

Unapproved and unregulated cloud computing use can also cause additional network congestion, affecting the performance of key applications. If IT is unaware of what is causing the congestion it is very difficult to fix, and could end up having a negative impact on the business in terms of lost productivity and time and money spent solving the problem.

But of course workers don’t (usually!) mean to cause security or productivity issues by using cloud services without IT’s approval – they are simply doing whatever it takes to make them more productive and efficient.

That’s why it is a delicate balancing act between protecting the business – by using application delivery controllers for load balancing and firewall services, for example – and allowing employees to work in a way that suits them and makes them more efficient.