Monday, March 7, 2011

Big Clouds Cast Dark Shadows

It is an ongoing discussion around Cloud Computing: Can cloud providers be trusted? Will they take care of your data in the ways we expect? And in the light of the recently announced shutdown of Delicious, the once popular cloud service for remembering and sharing your bookmarks: Do clouds last?

Let's start with the trust part. People have been collectively taking a huge leap of faith when they put all their personal contact lists and photo albums on a convenient and immensely popular cloud meant for that purpose. I think you know what cloud I am referring to. It is provided by a company that might sue you for saying the body part that contains your mouth, nose and eyes to loudly, while at the same time treating their cloud users like they don't care.

Back when today's clouds were born, the baby cloud did its best to look innocent, inviting and promising. It lured new users with fun, free and easy services. Come play and don't worry, I'll take care of all your data items like they're my own. The cloud grew bigger and bigger and became more and more powerful. And eventually, the once idealistic little cloud needed to answer to its investors for its exponentially growing maintenance costs. It needed to find a way to turn the user base into money. And that's where it became less caring and more demonic.

That's right: demonic, because the cloud has become detached from the humans it provides its services for. It wants to know everything about you, but it couldn't care less at the same time. It feeds on your gullibility. It leaches its user base of profiling data. It has to, because it will die if it doesn't. That's the shadow a cloud casts. The bigger the cloud, the bigger and darker its shadow. Once a demonic cloud has your soul, it is very possesive about it. Try deleting your account. You might need a shaman (lawyer) to exorcise your demon (break the contract).

I am not saying that all clouds are demonic. I am just saying that you should be aware of the consequences of sharing personal stuff with a company that largely acts on the financial demands of its shareholders. For its existence, a cloud depends on servers, people, electricity, et cetera. It needs a constant and reliable revenue stream to finance all that. On top of that it also needs to be profitable, because its investors want value for their money. It is as simple as that. When the sustainability and profitability fail, the cloud is doomed and will be killed.

So clouds may not last. What happens to your data when a cloud is killed is unclear. I know that it probably isn't going to be returned to you. Your data will most likely be sold to another company. That is why I believe you should be carefull. It is why I am starting to see the point of private cloud systems (such as PogoPlug or TonidoPlug) that allow you to make your personal digital items accessible from anywhere using any device and to share these items with other people, while always staying in control of your own files. A private cloud cannot get corrupted and acts on your personal needs, and not on the needs of the demon that lurks in the shadows.

Now, I might have read a few too many fantasy books. But that only explains my choice of words, not my opinions in this...

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