Why I’m staring at clouds (cloud computing, that is)

You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re falling behind, no longer at the sharp end of technology if, like me, you’re a bit bewildered by the idea of so-called cloud computing, drifting slowly by. For me, “the cloud” is just a new riff on an old way of doing things.

Before I begin, let me just say this isn’t going to be some in-depth analysis of cloud computing, simply because I’m not that IT literate. And, for the most part, I’m sure such a review would have an exceptionally narrow audience. Instead, I’m going to skip the technicalities and offer my opinion on the cloud.

I have various parts of my digital life and work on the web, scattered hither and yonder. Mostly, these electronic excerpts of my life are to be found in the form of profiles, bookmarks, portfolios, with websites and articles representing the more substantiative end of the electro-content-centric spectrum.

What I don’t have on the web is anything specifically work related, in so far as archived data. Why? Two reasons, the first of which being that I live in a rural area and sit at the end of what’s called the “last mile”, a telecommunication euphemism for having a rubbish broadband connection, while secondly, I just don’t trust the internet that much.

A security storm cloud for Sony

To some, that final statement must appear like an unusual admission coming from someone like me, a business owner who builds web applications for a living. But let me just quote a message I saw on Twitter earlier, written by Adi Kingsley-Hughes:

“Before everyone pours their financial information into Google Wallet, let me just say one thing … Sony.”

Remember the Sony fiasco, where, firstly 77 million user accounts for their PlayStation network were illegally accessed, followed by an additional 24 million? Yes, that Sony. And the truly tragic irony is, the attack was actually launched from Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing platform.

So, for myself at least, if the likes of Sony can’t keep customer data safe, I really don’t hold out much hope for anyone else, Google included. And that’s just the security side of things. Then there’s what I call the all-or-nothing aspect of cloud computing.

It never rains, but it pours. Even for Google?

Let’s say you’ve taken the Google shilling and you’re using one of their Chrome OS laptop computers, that shoves all of your stuff up into the magical ether. Now, while Google will claim they can keep you going while you’re away from an internet connection, storing some of your stuff on your computer, for how long can you work like this when that all-important spreadsheet is presently residing on a server somewhere in the North America Mid-West?

And this is Google, arguably the most well resourced company in the world. From this perspective, you can easily see the cliff edge at which most other companies offering similar services would immediately drop off when their vastly smaller resources are included into the equation of you requiring access to your stuff. In the world of cloud computing, you either have everything, or you have nothing.

But cloud computing offers another potential problem, because we have Google and Amazon offering similar cloud-based services for their music offerings, too. Apple have something similar lined up, but crucially, they have seen the potential problems with the cloud and have a hybrid in mind, where you keep your music and movies on your computer, but will also be able to access them remotely from some other location, away from your computer.

This all kind of reminds me of that real world all-or-nothing situation, when the power goes out.

“Hmm, no TV. Oh well, I’ll make a cup of coffee.”

And then you realize you need power for that.

“Okay, skip that. I’ll listen to some music.”

And then you realize you need power for that, too.

“Damn it! Right, I’ll read a non-electronic book of the paper variety!”

But it’s now dark, and you need power for the lights.

Looking back, from the future

In fifty years time, this article will probably be ensconced in academic literature, highlighting the quaint concerns of the early internet, before becoming self-aware and omnipresent. For now, it isn’t and it’s not, and I’m here staring at clouds, while I work on my computer, reasonably safe in the knowledge that I have access to my stuff whenever if not wherever I am.