The arguments in favor of this approach are generally strong in terms of convenience. This type of activity is already common, be it in webmail (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc.), Flickr (photos), Megaupload (file transfers), Delicious (bookmarks), etc. Plus, there’s the software security aspect of keeping everything hosted, where regular backups and software updates keep all your information. This is something that doesn’t happen often on PCs, a lot of information is left behind when updates are done. However, there is 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 data from your PC to some remote server doesn’t make long-term economic sense from a large entity’s perspective. How are all the cloud computers paying?
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 campaign.”
Get off my cloud
Returning to the topic of how these services are going to be paid for. Stallman remains convinced that the charges will start small and then escalate. As corporations (Google and IBM are the two most vociferous advocates), their financial performance will undoubtedly be long-term, with less focus on short-term earnings and much more interest in global market share. Google’s unofficial motto, “don’t be evil,” is surely being put to the test employing such a strategy. Maybe it’s time to send the prayer to a back room for storage. It’s reminiscent of the IBM of yesteryear, when the world would only need about a dozen computers (or clouds in this case), all owned by Google (with help from IBM). Disturb these landlord bouncers and you could affect the future of your business. These ‘masters of the cloud’ may find themselves in a position to choose businesses that will do well and those that will fade into obscurity. Which sounds feudal and undemocratic to me. And possibly evil.
Of course, there are other issues, particularly those related to user privacy. I know who’s looking at my PC – it’s who I give permission to and even then, it’s probably just a login. With your information in a cloud, who knows who might be looking into your private information? Won’t the physical location of the cloud dictate the laws that govern who can access the information? You don’t know and probably won’t know where it is or who has access to it.
The argument for it is like emptying out your home and keeping everything in a big airplane hangar down the street. When you want something, they send you a car and you can get what you want. The only problem is that I’m sure someone is using my stuff when I’m not there and on my way home on my last visit I saw a notice that said due to the costs associated with maintaining this service it will be necessary to impose a small fee starting next week and in very small print at the bottom: a much higher fee at peak times (weekends, when everyone really wants to use the service). That’s probably how they finance it.
This is an old strategy: lightweight network computer was a buzzword 15 years ago. It offered a budget price point with little functionality (much like IBM’s ‘dumb’ terminals of the 1970s). You got a very simple PC with nothing stored locally and you paid to use the software on a remote server, just as you used it. That way you could get a PC for $300. It fizzled out and died as a concept, despite the support of all the major players. It’s interesting to note that the $300 price tag was met with fully functioning PCs and laptops anyway. It’s a warning from history that even if you ignore the advice of the corporations, you might still get what they promise.
I’ll keep my laptop and programs local, and post information on the internet whenever I want. I understand the argument that in business one must continually expand or risk being replaced, but corporations that embrace this ‘rule the world’ philosophy always end up looking like hackneyed Bond villains. Look on the bright side of Google: when cloud computing fails to pique long-term user interest. You can dust off and start unofficially using that “don’t be evil” catchphrase again.