Should in the Cloud We Trust?Sunday, March 13, 2011 17:14
With every passing day, we become more reliant on services found within the Internet; also known as cloud computing. It’s very common to have your e-mail through Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. Social sites, like Facebook and Twitter, thrive on the terabytes of personal information store online. The Internet is full of sites used to share pictures and video. Even document editing and management can be done online. No matter how much hype is placed on these buzz word backed services, no one cares more for your data than you do.
The allure of cloud based services all come down to: Speed, Portability and Collaboration.
Not much credit is given to the speediness attributed to online service. At my day job, my e-mail is centered around Microsoft Outlook. However, outside of the office, I use Gmail. When you compare the search functionality of both, you’ll see there’s a huge difference in having one computer searching your e-mail, versus hundreds of servers crunching away at your query. Yes, Microsoft Outlook is improving with every iteration, but it’s no match compared to the search behemoth, Google, which is centered around retrieving desired information.
Portability also plays a pivotal role in the seductiveness of cloud computing. With services like Facebook and Twitter, I can keep up with my friends from any computer. Bloggers using WordPress and Blogspot can keep their creativity in motion without being limited to a single location or computer. Multiple Internet based solutions allow people to store data online just as easily as it is stored on a USB drive.
This leads straight into collaboration. While at college, many classes required that group work. Working on a class paper with 3 people hunched around the same screen was painful. However, with the use of Google Documents, working on the same paper was a breeze. We were no longer confined to working at the same time, in the same room. (It’s usability and features have increased since I graduated.) Couple that with other near real-time communication methods, such as Instant Messaging and Video Conferencing, and you have a venerable collaboration playground.
We haven’t even touched the fact that many of these services are reasonably priced (in many cases free). Regardless, the draw to applications that live outside of our computer, and even our physical network, is very strong. With so many reasons to shift toward more online based solutions, why would any individual or companies hesitate making the big plunge? I counter this with the question: why are individuals and companies so eager to move toward this Internet centric models? Relying on services that live in the cloud have inherent risks.
The biggest concern is stability. If your preferred document editor stops working, there are options: repair the application, switch to another computer or use a different editor. What do you do if the Internet stops working? One of my favorite service, Gmail, is no exception. It has been subject to the same types of service outages and in some cases data loss.
Awareness should also be placed on the idea that data is placed in the cloud, there is no “undo” button. Yes, many services allow you to add and remove content. However, if you remove something, can you be certain its been completely eradicated? Can you be sure that no one else has downloaded a copy of any media that, in hind sight, wasn’t the best to share with the world? What about any backups made by the Service provider or your ISP? No. You can’t.
My last concern revolves around longevity. Many services that run for an affordable, or even non-existent, price make no guarantees that they’ll be around forever. I’ve seen many services come and go. I really enjoyed Google Notebook. Delicious, a favored link sharing site, has an uncertain future as it is up on the Yahoo chopping block. Recently, Xmarks suffered a scare before it was acquired by LastPass. Whether the service is provided by a start-up or a well established multi-billion dollar company… if the it offered for free or your paying fifty dollars a month… you have no promise that what you use today, will be there tomorrow. (Read the EULA.)
This does not mean that we should shy away from web based services. It just means we need to be more cautious. Here are a few parting tips:
- Do Your Research: Verify how long the service has been around. Check out its competitors. See if there have been any major security concerns or frequent up-time issues. (Twitter Search is a great research tool.)
- Ponder before your Publish: Determine the sensitivity of the information before it is placed on the Internet. Weigh the risks/benefits of proprietary information being unknowingly leaked out to the public.
- Have an Exit Strategy: Make sure the service allows you to backup/export your data periodically. The format should be open and easily interpreted by another application or service. Map out, on paper, you plan B if your need to transition away from the service. (Update the transition document periodically as services, and competitors, change on a regular basis.)
Lastly, Welcome to the Social… and all the headaches it entails.