A representation of The Cloud
give up (power or territory)
Here’s your first clue about what you need to know about the so-called Cloud. They want it, they want you using it, they want you relying on it, and they want you paying for it. And they want it bad.
That’s pretty much all you need to know.
If you need more, consider this. Potentially tens of thousands of Gmail users were affected earlier this week when they lost their emails stored in The Cloud. Google said the outage was caused be a “faulty software update.”
Restoration of lost emails took a bit of extra time because Google had to use an old-fashioned tape backup. It seems that even though several electronic copies of emails are made, they were also wiped out by the glitch. Luckily there were also tape backups that were unaffected by the glitch since they were stored offline.
From the Wall Street Journal:
This is a black eye for companies like Google, which is actively trying to convince businesses and governments to switch their on-premise email systems to online services, which it promotes as less expensive and more reliable. In a blog post a year ago, Google boasted about how its Google Apps customers don’t need to worry about protecting their data. “They get best-in-class disaster recovery for free, no matter their size.”
So what is this so-called “cloud?” Basically it mans your applications and/or data are stored on remote servers on the internet. As opposed to your applications and/or data being stored physically on your own computer.
As with most things in computing (and life) there are pros and cons to the scheme.
The pros include things like accessibility and data security. On the cloud you can access your stuff from most any computer in the world. Want to check your email while at the airport? No problem. Listen to your music library while out of the home? That’s possible, too. And the services that perform these functions usually do things like automatically backup your data, too. They maintain all equipment and perform sofware updates, too.
The cons are not that trivial, despite what they want you to believe. What if your internet connection goes sideways? As long as it’s out you have no access to anything. It is extremely frustrating when I try to access something on the cloud and it doesn’t work. It is a very helpless feeling. Is the problem my computer? The operating system? The browser? The ISP? The internet routing? The application server? Good luck figuring that out. Meanwhile you just sits.
Another con is privacy. Sure, we can trust companies like Google with our emails, but the point is, they have the access. They can literally do what they want. Companies in the cloud have buried in their terms clauses that give them the right to share your data to trusted third parties and “partners.” And every once in a while there are stories in the news about renegade employees with access to data who did something they shouldn’t. Or companies may change policies and do things with our data that we don’t want. Or hackers can get in and steal our information. The larger the database the more attractive the target to hackers.
Recently I’ve been noticing another element of the cloud that has been causing me frustration. This is the distributed nature of most everything on the internet.
When you load a typical web page, what do you see? It might look like a page hosted on your favorite service, like WordPress, but in reality pieces of that page may be served from other locations. Big web sites distribute load to other servers. They might have one server for web pages, another for images, another for applications, and another for databases. The architecture is such that each server may be protected by its own physical firewall. (Depending on the size of the web site.)
It’s also common for cookies and other little applications, like advertising, to be originate from servers that are remote to the page you are viewing.
I actually experienced this yesterday. WordPress pages were working but there was some stange and undefinable problem on the internet that prevented Gravatar images from loading. Some of those distributed remote pieces weren’t working for me.
So when the internet gets goofy, you may only partially be able to surf, and all of the distributed pieces might not work and everything will look wonky.
If I remember correctly, Microsoft was a visionary when it came to the cloud, although I don’t think they called it that back then. What Microsoft wanted was your applications, like Word and Excel, hosted on the internet. No longer would you have to buy and install these applications on your own computer. Instead you’d sign up and use the applications as a service. With a monthly fee, of course. In the end, Microsoft would stand to make a lot more money than by merely having customers pay for a one-time purchase of software.
“Microsoft applications” would then become just another item in your monthly budget. Gas, phone, electric, water, and oh yeah, Microsoft. “Honey? Did we pay the Microsoft Word bill this month, yet?”
Here I am already hip deep in the cloud. In addition to Gmail there is also Google Docs, Dropbox, Toggl and more.
Gmail is a free service. Which begs the question: Who is the “customer?” I bet it’s not you, the humble user. Nope, the true customer of Gmail is the advertisers. They pay the bills. In fact, does Google make any guarantees or warranties at all about the service to the end user? I just read their terms and I couldn’t find anything about. I did notice, however, these little tidbits:
YOU EXPRESSLY UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF THE SERVICES IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK AND THAT THE SERVICES ARE PROVIDED “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE.”
IN PARTICULAR, GOOGLE, ITS SUBSIDIARIES AND AFFILIATES, AND ITS LICENSORS DO NOT REPRESENT OR WARRANT TO YOU THAT DEFECTS IN THE OPERATION OR FUNCTIONALITY OF ANY SOFTWARE PROVIDED TO YOU AS PART OF THE SERVICES WILL BE CORRECTED.
Source: Google Terms of Service (linked from this page)
Doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy about trusting the cloud with years of your email data? In other words, Google is saying, “We don’t have to fix anything if we don’t want to.” Sure, this time they will fix the Gmail outage in the name of good public relations. Especially because they want you to buy into the cloud more and more. But what if it was something they couldn’t fix? Google would then say, “Too bad, so sad. What? Didn’t you have a backup? You have gots to have a backup!”
Look now who’s running a TV campaign promoting the cloud? Yep. Microsoft. To bring this back full circle, just remember two things: Who wants this and how bad do they want it?
Isn’t that really all you need to know about how good the cloud will really be for you?
To the cloud!