Computing in the Cloud (Part 1)

Cloud computing is all the rage in IT circles now-a-days. While it’s been given a nifty new name, in reality it’s not much different than the old days of the mainframe, where you store your data and applications on a centralized system. The advantages of such a system are that you can access it from anywhere—like putting your mainframe on the Internet—and processing and data storage can be moved to any location on the fly. Moving information and processing can either be used to pull users closer to their data, to conserve network resources, or to push the data closer to electricity and other resources.

There are a lot of advantages to such a model, from a practical perspective. A local doctor needn’t spend so much time maintaining a computer, for instance. He can simply place his applications and data “in the cloud,” by housing it on some service on the Internet, and use a rather basic and simple front end computer to access it. If there are fewer local applications, the local computer can be cheaper, and less difficult to maintain. It sounds like an attractive model, as long as you don’t consider the one single problem that will plague cloud computing, as it has plagued all the centralized models of computing before it. Who owns the data?

You see, data is the essence of creativity, in a sense. Data is created when someone writes an article, a book, or just combines existing data in a different way. But data is, in effect, the effect of work. No-one survives without data (although a lot of people are trying to be ignorant and free today, and experiment they are soon to find out simply won’t work). No business survives without data. This issue of data ownership is critical. In fact, part of the reason the personal computer revolution generated a wave of productivity and creativity was because people and companies could own the data they created, rather than being forced to store it on someone else’s hardware. He who owns the storage space owns the data, as Google well knows.

Oh, there are all sorts of contracts, and all sorts of “privacy guards,” of course, but the bottom line question is this: If someone “accidentally” releases something you’ve worked hard on creating into the public view, what is your recourse? Generally speaking, nothing. And if it happens to ruin you, financially or otherwise, well, too bad, in effect. What’s done is done, and there’s no “taking it back.” And what of those “contracts” and “privacy guards?” There are several problems with these things, in fact. But I’m bumping my 500 word limit, so I’ll consider the problems with computing in the cloud in the next installment.

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