Clouding the Issue

Thursday, 20 June 2013 16:21

There's an awful lot of hype about cloud computing at the moment. It seems that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon, and indeed what old hacks such as myself used to just call "the Internet" (I never was happy at dropping the capital "I") seems to be, ubiquitously, called "The Cloud". There is even a strategy being pushed by the UK Government to put everything in The Cloud by default.

The Good

There's nothing wrong with that, though, right? Well, not entirely. There are lots of things Cloud Computing is indeed good for. Offsite backup, for example, which I have recommended to everyone even before Cloud-based backup was a realistic possibility (back in the day, I used to burn CDs and later DVDs with data every few months and put them in a safety deposit box in the bank, I kid you not).

Another field where Cloud Computing is a real plus is server farms, where you can buy processing power in order to cope with spikes in your service requirements, for example. A good application of this might be a site selling tickets to the next World Cup, for example, which will most likely be overloaded with user requests once ticket sales are announced, but not long after that, as requests decline sharply, the purchase of megabucks of expensive server hardware seems an unnecessary extravagance.

The Bad

But where I have a problem with The Cloud is where people store their primary data, possibly without any backup, on some server out there. There are many accounting packages which work like this, for example: you enter your business data, which by law you must keep for a minimum of 6 years (in the UK), on some external system.

What happens if your service provider goes out of business? Or supposing you have a dispute with them - say, over a payment - and suddenly your access to your data is no longer possible? What if you're assuming your service provider is backing up all that data but in fact they don't? Limited liability might mean that, if they're not and their data centre goes up in flames, you won't even be able to sue them. And of course, the data is gone anyway, which all the compensation in the world won't recover.

The Ugly

Steve Wozniak gave an interesting little interview this week where he made the criticism that The Cloud is making people place all their most precious electronic belongings - family photos, e-books, films and the like - into online storage and then pay for the privilege of keeping it. We are, it seems, moving from being a society which owns personal stuff to being one that merely rents it from some benign corporate entity. And because we're likely to end up being locked in to a specific cloud vendor, we're going to be forced to pay whatever that vendor thinks we should pay … just to keep our own stuff.