Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Two Concerns About "Cloud Computing"

The term “cloud computing" has now been with us for two years or so.  The metaphor - and marketing campaigns by proponents - suggest that this new technological phenomenon is rather like gravity.  We are encouraged to link our computing habits to ‘the cloud” irrevocably.  Soon, we are told, there will be no need for computer hard drives, installed software, frequent backups, portable external hard drives and the like.  “The Cloud” will supplant them all.
My personal experience, related to this appealing vision,  raises two concerns. The labels reliability and integrity capture them simply.
Reliability comes first.  I am a frequent international traveler, with a second home in a rural area.  In principle, internet coverage is available - at a price - in all of the venues where my peripatetic life takes me.  In fact, despite high priced service provider contractual obligations (of course hedged by pages of opaque legalese) to the contrary, service at my home and various hotels where I may be staying is, at most 50 per-cent.  Even in tech-savvy Singapore there were problems. Those who provide reasonable service and moderate prices with excellent back-up support, demonstrate what is possible.  My Washington DC provider, RCN,  is a great example.  At the other end of the service and reliability spectrum (in my experience at least)  is the rural area provider, a collaboration between satellite provider Direct-way and router provider Lynksys (Cisco Systems).  
On my recent travels, promised service was available at two hotels in Greece, but, surprisingly, not in Switzerland.  When service (promised or not) is unavailable in Sri Lanka or Malaysia, I am not surprised.  When I occasionally encounter similar problems in Singapore, that is surprising.  Even in the developed world, a very wide gap in availability and reliability (not to mention cost) between God-provided phenomena such as gravity and “The Cloud” remains.
Then there is the matter of integrity.  To me, Integrity means meaning what one says - or commits to in a contract/service agreement - and then keeping your word.  It means not cheating or dissembling.  In the world of “could computing” it means business dealings that take into account the well being of those being served.  It means fundamental honesty  and fairness.  I can’t speak for other countries, but in my own country, America, the idea that integrity - strong guidance from an internal moral compass - is part of doing business has clearly gone out of style.  This became grievously clear in Congressional testimony and news reports describing machinations of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase senior executives - these being only the tip of a much larger iceberg.  Earlier, there was the collapse of Enron, Lehman Brothers and many mortgage providers.   
In the more arcane world of “Cloud Computing” one must assume that violations of honesty/integrity, in particular the secret use of personal information for private financial gain coupled with dissembling about it, are pervasive.   Else why would there be megaworded license agreements and  “privacy standards”  drafted by and backed-up by phalanxes of attorneys, who earn their livings by protecting the perpetrators.    
Thus , the bottom line, regarding my concerns about “The cloud”,  is simple and seems unambiguous.  The cloud is not yet a reliable resource.  Those responsible for designing and making its services available do not necessarily do so with altruistic intentions.

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