There has been a lot of talk, maybe way too much talk regarding cloud computing. The fact that companies and individuals are willing to keep data on someone else’s servers is interesting.
It does, of course, address the disaster recovery aspect since your data will be at some off-site location. Any damage to company property does not imply that all is lost too. Also, since you are placing your files on someone’s hosting servers, obviously the hosting company too must be mirroring your data onto some other location so as to avert any loss of data if disaster were to strike their primary location. With Google on the map, most individuals and companies who lay their trust in them, have the advantage of a secure, reliable hosting service. After all they are Google!
The thing that strikes one as interesting is the ‘trust factor’. Mostly because of the mobility, accessibility and convenience, one wants their data on web /secure servers so it can be accessed from anywhere, from any device and irrespective of the OS. This then brings the concept of “death of the OS” – more on that in a bit, but imagine the paradigm shift.
As a people (as opposed to non-people), we are quite happy to allow a third party to hold onto our [sensitive] data. Granted one wants to be prepared for any disaster and would like to have servers at some secondary or even tertiary location, but to think that one is now trusting these service providers enough to allow them ‘to have and hold’ your data. Gone are the days when access to the computer and company files was guarded such that floppy disks were not allowed! Today USB drives are rampant and so data is least secure from the employees themselves. No amount of encryption on the data, when in transit or at rest, can address the basic human desire and need for malice! That has yet to be addressed, despite the fact that the various hard drive encryption and USB filters in place does make the effort a bit tougher to engage in.
In any case, cloud computing does make you, to quite an extent, a free bird. Free to access your data from an where via any device. You essentially need a web server and a high speed internet connection and you’re all set. Despite the fact that the connectivity may be somewhat unreliable (thanks to a sweet track record of a personal encounter with PTCL lines that don’t work and service providers who don’t really want to serve you all the time), where and when did this trust come from?
Did we feel that it was all right for others to host our data?
There are of course some misconceptions where people want to hold onto their data — keep the servers on premises, which isn’t a very smart option. You are just tempting fate with that configuration so don’t get me wrong – I am a proponent of off site hosting. Multiple hosting, mirror your servers, and use multiple hosting providers. Anything — just to avoid the single point of failure — but the psychology still interests me.
In a country where Internet access is still dicey and even if you can get online, speeds are a constant source of frustration (it took me 38 minutes to upload a 10Mb file!), how can one consider cloud computing? Case in point, I have given up being part of the Microsoft monopoly. I do keep my files online. I can export them to any format when and as I wish. I am starting to work with open source suites like Openoffice.org yet when it comes down to basic accessibility, I am lost. The premise of cloud computing is perfect. The process to actually retrieve of update the documents in the cloud when my Internet connection fails 90% of the time, is not.
Given how post 9/11 the world is not trusting of anyone or anything, the Patriot Act in the US constantly pushes Google for data access, it just seems a matter of time before they relent. I am still amazed at how this term cloud computing and its ramifications are used daily. I guess it’s also the mindshift thanks to the twenty-something-year-olds who are now in the workforce. The generation that grew up on the Internet trusts that which they have neither met nor seen. As more and more young people join the workforce, the mentality towards collaboration and cloud connecting, networking, socializing online takes on a more real face.
For this generation the Internet is not the “other” it is their daily tool. There is nothing to be afraid of. They trust this multihomed monster and so living a life or allowing the company to have its data online is permitted in their mind. Just as they have numerous friends online, where they flit from one social network to another so also do they trust the hosting of data online. IF something was to fail, the company hosting their data was to mess up and not be accessible, they would not run away from the concept of keeping data online, they would only use another service provider, another more robust system.
For the sake of any argument, you have the for and against points stacked up, but whether you like it or not, its something we are all a part of. This cloud computing gives you redundancy, reliability, universal accessibility and OS independence, yet are you sure, are you secure in the knowledge that he who hosts your data is safe? Can you trust?
I could talk about risks until the cows come home and people might still not be convinced. Especially considering my own leanings towards the magical bubble of joy. But there are very real risks involved in depending on the cloud, and moreso because there is usually little or no contingency planned for it. In fact, most Small and Medium Businesses, look at the cloud as their backup! But here are some things to consider.
You put stuff up. What if you can’t take it down? What if there is some legal (less technical) reason you can no longer access your data? Do people even know what the small print in the SLA they signed, actually says? Do organizations have the relevant expertise to manage cloud applications? And of course, you have to ask yourself whether or not the evaluation to assess whether the risk and returns actually weigh one another out in a balanced manner, to use the cloud.
I kid you not that everyone (in and outside of Pakistan) is a technical expert! In fact, I’m surprised the experts aren’t raining out of the cloud itself! But the entire premise of cloud computing is simplicity and low cost. If you run, for example, a business, you hardly want to be worried with the warrants of which cloud works for you. And if you don’t have the technical expertise, you are going to be dependent on someone else’s perception of the needs and challenges of your organization, which doesn’t always give you the best advantage in the situation. Unless and until you evaluate the risks and benefits, you shouldn’t be making the decision that could impact the lifecycle of your business operations.
Life online, in the hands of others, strangers even is here to stay. As E.M. Foster described in the ‘Machine Stops’ (1905), we are all plugged in and reliance on the machine though crippling, cannot be avoided.