Why we should be worried about the cloud
It's not the first time I write about Cloud Computing; I began commenting the ridiculous Terms of Service of some web applications to edit and store online office documents, like Google Documents, Zoho, Acrobat. Then, some months later, after reading the angry as usual comment by Richard Stallman about storing your documents in the Cloud ( the ""It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign" rant :) ), I described my view:
Best thing to do would be to have a fast internet connection at home (with simmetric speeds too, upstream and downstream) and some nice opensource software for webmail and for some documents writing and sharing. Mix that with IPV6 and we're all connected with our cloud, powered by us.
The final ingredient could be some huge webservice where we could upload our nightly backup of our home server. And those backups should be encrypted too.
When it will be the time of some opensource gmail?
More after the jump.
Cory starts with a self-explanatory
The tech press is full of people who want to tell you how completely awesome life is going to be when everything moves to "the cloud" – that is, when all your important storage, processing and other needs are handled by vast, professionally managed data-centres.
Here's something you won't see mentioned, though: the main attraction of the cloud to investors and entrepreneurs is the idea of making money from you, on a recurring, perpetual basis, for something you currently get for a flat rate or for free without having to give up the money or privacy that cloud companies hope to leverage into fortunes.
But the hard truth is that
But for the average punter, cloud computing is – to say the least – oversold. Network access remains slower, more expensive, and less reliable than hard drives and CPUs. Your access to the net grows more and more fraught each day, as entertainment companies, spyware creeps, botnet crooks, snooping coppers and shameless bosses arrogate to themselves the right to spy on, tamper with or terminate your access to the net.
For Cory the solution is
It's easy to think of some extremely specialised collaborative environments that benefit from cloud computing– we used a Google spreadsheet to plan our wedding list and a Google calendar to coordinate with my parents in Canada – but if you were designing these applications to provide maximum utility for their users (instead of maximum business-model for their developers), they'd just be a place where encrypted bits of state information was held for periodic access by powerful PCs that did the bulk of their calculations locally.
That's how I use Amazon's S3 cloud storage: not as an unreliable and slow hard drive, but as a store for encrypted backups of my critical files, which are written to S3 using the JungleDisk tool. This is cheaper and better than anything I could do for myself by way of offsite secure backup, but I'm not going to be working off S3 any time soon.
I agree with Cory: until internet connectivity at home is not fast, reliable and simmetric both in down- and upstream speed, for the average Joe the cloud will be just another storage location. I even have problems, with a fair decent DSL, to edit quickly a spreadsheet via google documents, let alone thinking on presentations or photo editing.
My suggestion is to take the cloud as a not-that-reliable backup location: first of all, the Terms of Service offered by many companies are obscure and creepy. Then, almost any of these companies are always trying to find a real revenue model and therefore they can disappear suddenly without any notice if some angel capital doesn't help with financing.
There is another point, risen in the comment by nikh:
The main issue I have is control. If all my data resides with Google, then Google has, de facto, control over my data. If all my data resides on my laptop, I have control over my data.
I much prefer the latter. What if a court order tells Google to look for suspected copyright infringing material on their servers? Google will have to comply. You might say this is unlikely, or that you have nothing to hide, but I am just using as an example of a 3rd party event which has nothing to do with you, personally, which might suddenly affect your access to your own property.
And this is exactly the point: You don't really have any control on the data you store by Google, Flickr, Facebook, ... . They can lose your data as Apple did with MobileMe customers, they can lock you out from your gmail account, they can open your account if ordered by some court (say the whole chinese blogger, chinese government and Yahoo case), they're not reliable for the data loss if any et cetera. Please notice that any of the above incidents have anything to do with something personally happened to the user (well, maybe there is an exception for the chinese blogger, but read further).
At least under italian laws, there are way more limitations on court given search orders over personal places (your own home, for example) than over business places (your company headquarters). So, somehow, even if from a disaster perspective, your backup data at home are less reliable than by Google's data centers, see it from another point of view: if you have the police knocking your door, maybe you still have the time to completely wipe out your USB disk. Google will not ever ever do it.