Many folks have some pretty hazy ideas about what constitutes cloud computing.

CCH president and CEO Mike Sabbatis discussed some of the misconceptions about cloud computing during his keynote address at the 2010 California Accounting & Business Show & Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. He cited a survey showing that 41 percent of senior IT professionals admit they “don’t know” what cloud computing is, and two-thirds of senior finance professionals were confused about what cloud computing is. However, the cloud computing market is a huge one, estimated to reach $42 billion by 2012, or nearly half the size of the entire software business.

Cloud computing is not simply software that runs over the Web. “Cloud and the Internet were synonymous for quite a while, but the cloud means much more now,” said Sabbatis. “It can be a rainmaker, in the sense that you can make money from it.”

Databases and application servers can run in the cloud, as well as computer code. Cloud computing can help accountants go mobile and access their software from anywhere in the world.

Sabbatis contrasted that with premises-based software, which traditionally is just available on one’s own computer or on the office network. Cloud computing offers features like on-demand elasticity, self-service applications and shared infrastructure. He noted that it’s not only Software as a Service, or SaaS, but more like Software plus Service. Cloud computing is not simply hosting applications or accessing an online dashboard.

Examples of cloud computing include the photo-sharing site Flickr, as well as social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Some companies leveraging cloud computing successfully and offering it to customers include,, and Google.

Even traditional software and hardware companies like Microsoft and IBM are investing heavily in the technology. IBM chairman Samuel Palmisano recently told Sabbatis that his company was investing billions and dedicating 200 employees to its Blue Cloud initiative.

CCH has also gotten involved in cloud computing, and partnered with Microsoft on its Azure technology, offering some of its sales and use tax software online. CCH has also been making its own moves into cloud computing, offering some of its ProSystem fx Suite of products via the cloud.

In a recent CCH survey of the best practices of high-performing accounting firms, the majority indicated support for mobile devices, with 72 percent supporting wireless laptops; 60 percent supporting BlackBerries, iPhones or other PDAs or smart phones; and 25 percent supporting wireless mininotebooks or netbooks. Those mobile devices are one big reason why firms are high-performing, and more of them are also latching on to cloud computing as an important way to stay connected with their clients.