The Cloud–What do I think?

The problem with the cloud from my perspective is that you are giving away control to a service provider.  That in itself isn’t too bad, I give away control of this website to my hosting company and so far it has been up and running with little problems over the years. So why is using the cloud any different to that. Well, the big difference is that if you are using the cloud for your business and you hang up your own IT for it, then you have put all your eggs in that provider’s basket.

I remember not so long ago there was a service called Google Video Store, loads of people paid for movies that they could download and play on their own PC. Because the movies were DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected, you could play them as long as Google’s DRM server could be contacted and your account verified as active. When Google pulled the plug unexpectedly as the service presumably wasn’t making money and the big studios were as usual shying away from internet downloads, the end users were left with movies they had paid for but now couldn’t play as the DRM server was gone.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2007/08/google-video-store-gets-stay-of-execution-full-refunds-coming.ars

To me this is the big problem with any cloud service, if the provider goes bust, or just decides they don’t want the service any more you could find yourself high and dry. If this is your IT system, who’s going to explain to the boss that your staff cannot do any work because:

    1. All your data is gone, locked away on the hard disk of a server in Texas that the administrators of your now defunct cloud service provider are selling off to pay creditors.
    2. You only have web enabled dumb PCs that can only run a web browser based Operating System.
    3. It will cost £X million and 10 days to put back your long gone IT infrastructure.

Internet Connection – As well as the above, on a day to day basis you may have the problem that if your local ISP goes down and you can’t access the internet your staff can’t do any work, at least at the moment if the net goes down your staff can still use their PC to do useful work whilst the internet connection is sorted.

Security – Another worry from my perspective as an IT consultant is security of your data. Who is to say that some unscrupulous employee at the cloud hosting company isn’t selling your trade secrets to either your competitors or some foreign power like China who will take what you have done and sell it at a price that puts your company out of business. Worse still what if the Cloud company itself is unscrupulous, we have seen so called good companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook do some pretty iffy things with user data over the years?

http://www.pcworld.com/article/100084/hotmail_policy_raises_privacy_concerns.html
http://coderrr.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/google-chrome-privacy-worse-than-you-think/
http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2010/05/facebook-rogue/

Performance – I cannot imagine yet doing stuff like CAD or Video editing over a web link. It’s possible if the cloud is behaving like a Terminal Services session and all your dumb terminal is doing is relaying what’s happening on the remote server, even then I think the capabilities of servers will have to improve dramatically for that sort of work to be done with significant amounts of end users.

I think that the  whole idea of using the cloud to do everything is too simplistic. A better idea is to use it for the things it is good at, providing a location for data that is accessible from anywhere in the World and as a secondary backup to your main IT, so that if you are working remotely and need access to your company resources you can get to them.

To me you can get all this now by installing your own copy of Windows Small Business Server and configure it for remote access. Immediately you have all the benefits of the cloud (perhaps not the scalability where a cloud provider can give you instant access to more storage and computing power) but you have all the main benefits like working on your data anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection and all the benefits of it being on your premises and under your control.

Siv

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