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Clouded Vision

clouds

Amidst all the current hype about the brave new world brought forth by Web 2.0, SaaS, and cloud computing, I found it refreshing to find a somewhat sobering view. Cory Doctorow, a sci-fi author and co-curator of the boingboing blog, has made an interesting point in his Guardian column.

This should not be news to anyone familiar with the matter, but some apologists seem to keep forgetting that the proponents of cloud computing have a vested, though oftentimes hidden, interest in getting users up into the cloud. An interest that is not necessarily aligned with yours, the user’s:

Since the rise of the commercial, civilian internet, investors have dreamed of a return to the high-profitability monopoly telecoms world that the hyper-competitive net annihilated. Investors loved its pay-per-minute model, a model that charged extra for every single “service,” including trivialities such as Caller ID – remember when you had to pay extra to find out who was calling you? Imagine if your ISP tried to charge you for seeing the “FROM” line on your emails before you opened them!

This is something that has always worried me with cloud services. They severely restrict your freedom in what you can do with your data, and who controls it. The security of your data, and your privacy, is all in the hands of a service provider, somewhere far off. A good cloud service makes you an offer you can’t refuse, real tangible benefits, that makes it easier to swallow the bitter pill of being locked-in.

But from my point of view, the far more bitter implication of cloud computing is the return to the client-server model of computing it entails. On a mainframe, users have to share the available resources, and usage spikes make for a really bad experience for everyone involved. Do we really want to go back to that?

Now don’t get me wrong — there are many situations where a cloud service is the perfect solution. When lots of users collaborate on the same set of data, or when frequent application updates are a hassle. After all, this is why most BPM and ERP vendors have moved to web-based applications (albeit on the corporate intranet). Still, it pays to keep a cool head, and not rush for the cloud where there is no real added value.


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