Is it a good cloud, or an evil cloud?


Clouds are good, like rainbows and unicorns.

BY tonda dysart

Full disclosure, I label myself an early adopter, but not a first adopter. I didn’t buy the first iPhone, but did buy the iPhone2 and then upgraded to iPhone4; we didn’t get the first iPad, but we do have an iPad2. Although come to think of it I let my husband talk me into buying the first generation Nissan Leaf; that’s a topic for another post.

To be honest my opinion on the Cloud, like virtually all technology, is that it can and will be used for good and evil. The market will administer rewards and punishment — developers and users must manage it with responsibility. I also agree with the idea that you can’t stop progress, so you might as well jump on early. A smart person once told me, ‘We can’t stop this thing; let’s embrace it and let our opinion be heard. We might have some influence in steering the ship.’ With that I land on the side of the Cloud being a good thing.

So, why should we jump on board? Simple is better than complicated and cheap is better than expensive.

For start-ups cloud computing is almost as good as a silent investor. There’s little upfront money on your part and if it turns out that all the planets align and your venture is a success, you can scale up very quickly. As you might guess this supports a very entrepreneurial and risk-taking workflow. Speaking of scalability, unless you have one of those money trees in your backyard, why not use someone else’s infrastructure. It’s true that on the high end this could be expensive, but keep in mind that a cloud service will be built to accommodate their largest customer. Unless that’s you, there’s a lot of benefit to be had. Let the service provider buy the heavy duty hardware; let them hire system administrators, developers, QA and content management teams. A Cloud service is like having your own IT department, but not having to pay their salaries. To quote someone famous (although I don’t know who), “the whole is more than the sum of it’s parts”. And this is true for the Cloud. It’s the relationship and synergy of what the Cloud offers that make it a good thing.

So, we be cautious? Absolutely.

Is there risk of the Cloud “going down”? Sure, but no more risk than my personal hard drive failing, in fact less. Is it secure? I don’t think we know the answer to this, however service providers will tell us ‘yes’. I think it’s a leap of faith you’re comfortable taking or not. But ask yourself how secure your data is at home. In a home or work environment you could certainly take some fail-safe measures, by making multiple physical copies and storing them in multiple locations. My personal data certainly isn’t going to get that level of effort from me. Is someone looking at my data? Again, I don’t think we know.

It’s also good to remember that there isn’t one definitive definition of the Cloud. There’s Cloud computing, Cloud music services, Cloud storage services, etc. There’s a comfort level for everyone.


Clouds are evil, like tornados and orcs.

BY stephen land

When I was 9 I had a subscription to Popular Mechanics and Omni. I’ve owned a TI-99/4a, a Commodore 128 and a Mac IIsi. I have first generation versions of the iPod, iPad and MacBook Pro. I am by no means a technophobe but I am cloudphobic.

For all the highfalutin talk about the “Cloud” that makes it sound magical it’s really nothing more than a bunch of servers. Yes these are special, magical servers that not only store data but also software that multiple users can access from anywhere in the world, but they’re still servers in a room in a building surrounded by parking lots.

There are definitely pluses to the Cloud: no more expensive software purchases, no more running out of room on your hard drive, no more losing everything when your hard drive crashes or your cat knocks your hot chocolate onto your laptop. But there’s a dark edge to this cloud — one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up.

The dangerous, wicked clouds approach.

I love the theory of the Cloud in small doses. But I see many, many major problems if we get to the point where it’s the dominant figure of our computing infrastructure:

All the data in the world with a single point of failure.

It’s a crushing, soul-sucking experience to loose all your worldly digital possessions when a hard drive crashes. Multiply that feeling by several million because when a Cloud crashes everyone in the Cloud crashes. Yes, there will be backups and redundancies but there’s a reason insurance companies tell you to buy a firebox for your important papers. The likelihood of a house fire is small but it will happen eventually to someone and a Cloud will eventually have a catastrophic failure.

All the data in the world subject to monthly fees.

Some Clouds are free to users but premium Clouds with premium services come with a premium cost. Lose your job? Need to cut back on expenses? Miss a payment? Say good by to your stuff. A 1TB hard drive is about $55 and everything I put on it is mine forever. With the Cloud, what’s mine is mine as long as I come up with $19.99 a month.

All the data in the world subject to new terms and conditions and whims.

Corporations change terms and conditions so often they make the frequency of Lady Gaga’s wardrobe changes look reasonable. Seriously, iTunes, what exactly are you changing in the 64 page T&Cs I have to agree to every other month? For all I know, you’re telling me you now own everything I’ve put on my iPhone. Probably not, but if I want to continue using my iPhone, I have to agree to your terms. Same with the Cloud, they have all your data, and once they have that, they have all the leverage when it comes to rule making.

All the data in the world subject to bandwidth demands.

“I want to watch the movie I put in the Cloud but it’s taking for ever to buffer. I should have bought the extra bandwidth when I signed up.”

All the data in the world subject to wifi signal strength.

“I want to watch the movie I put in the Cloud. Good thing I bought that extra bandwidth when I signed up. Wait, where’s my connection? I’m in a dead zone? Grrrrr.”

All the data in the world in one place waiting, tantalizingly, for data thieves.

You think Citibank’s servers make a tempting target, imagine the feast of data floating in the Cloud.

All the data in the world for Anonymous to make a statement with.

Anonymous is a hacking collective that lashes out at anyone, usually corporations, they have a beef with. I sure hope my Cloud operator doesn’t do anything to upset them. A simple denial-of-service attack is pretty basic hacking stuff but terribly effective.

Obviously, not all the data in the world will be in the Cloud. And to be fair, I see no problem with using a cloud service to back up files that I also have on Terra firma. But if the world goes to hell in a hand basket and all the Clouds evaporate there won’t be enough books (already disappearing) and hard drives left for the Irish to save us again.

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