The arguments for this approach are generally strong in terms of convenience. This kind of activity is already common – either in web mail (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.), Flickr (photos), Megaupload (file transfer), Delicious (bookmarks), etc. In addition, there’s the software safety aspect of keeping everything hosted, where regular backups and upgrades to software, maintain all your information. This is something which doesn’t often happen on PCs, a lot of information gets left behind when upgrades occur. There is however, a comparatively weak argument regarding the economics of the cloud computing approach. Many of these applications are currently free, so the prospect of migrating all your information off your PC and onto some remote server, doesn’t make long term economic sense from the large entity’s perspective. How are they paying for all the computers in the cloud?
Richard Stallman – founder of GNU – the Open Source software foundation, speaking to the Guardian about cloud computing states: “It’s a trap… It’s worse than stupidity, it’s a marketing-hype campaign.”
Get Off My Cloud
Returning to the issue of how these services are going to be paid for. Stallman remains convinced that charges will start small and then be hiked. As corporations (Google and IBM are the two most vociferous proponents), their financial return will no doubt be in the long term, paying less heed to short term revenues and far more interest to global market share. Google’s unofficial motto “don’t be evil”, is surely being tested by employing such a strategy. Perhaps it’s time to consign the phrase to a back room for storage. It’s reminiscent of the IBM of old, when the World would only ever need around a dozen computers (or clouds in this case) – all of them owned by Google (with IBM’s help). Upset these proprietary gorillas and it might affect the future of your business. These ‘cloud-masters’ may find themselves in a position to cherry pick businesses who will do well, and those who will fade into obscurity. Which sounds feudal and undemocratic to me. And possibly evil.
There are of course further issues, particularly those associated with user privacy. I know who’s looking on my PC – it’s whoever I give permission to and even then, it’s probably just a login. With your information in a cloud, who knows who might be digging through your private information? Won’t the physical location of the cloud, dictate the laws governing who can access the information? You don’t and probably won’t know, where it is, or who has access to it.
The argument for, is like emptying your household and keeping everything in a large aircraft hangar up the street. When you want something, they send a car round and you can get what you want. Only trouble is – I’m sure someone’s using my stuff when I’m not there and on my way home, last visit, I saw a notice which said: due to costs associated with maintaining this service, it will be necessary to impose a small fee from next week and in really small writing at the bottom – a much larger fee at peak times (weekends – when everyone actually wants to use the service). That’s probably how they’ll fund it.
This is an old strategy – the lightweight, network computer was a buzz-term 15 years ago. It offered a cheap price-point with low functionality (just like IBM ‘dumb’ terminals of the 1970s). You got a very simple PC with nothing stored locally and paid for software use on a remote server, as you used it. That way you could get a PC for $300. It fizzled out and died as a concept – despite backing by all the major players. It’s interesting to note that the $300 price-point was met by fully functioning PCs and Laptops anyway. It’s a warning from history that even if you ignore corporations’ advice, you might still get what they’re promising anyway.
I’ll keep my laptop and programs locally, and publish information to the Internet as and when I want to. I understand the argument that in business you must continually expand or risk being superseded, but the corporations who embrace this ‘take over the world’ philosophy always end up resembling hackneyed, Bond villains. Look on the bright side Google – when cloud computing fails to ignite long term user interest. You can dust down and start unofficially using that ‘don’t be evil’ slogan again.
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