2010 was the year of “The Cloud”, this year, the concept of the cloud have finally gone
main stream. This past year we saw growth and further promotion of; Google Apps,
Apple promoting Mobile Me, and even Microsoft pushing Cloud Based Computing; among
thousands of other cloud based services.
These cloud based services move software and your files off of your desktop computer;
storing them on remote systems connected via the Internet. This brings us many
advantages, plus several disadvantages.
These remote services do offer a number of advantages such as;
Backup: A remote administrator is in charge of backing up your files on a regular basis,
essentially eliminating the need for user backups. Users have consistently shown a lack
of compliance with backups. Cloud based backups assign they responsibility to an
automated backup system that is overseen and checked by a professional.
Upgrades and Updates: When using software via “The Cloud”, your using software that
is running off of a remote system, with very little to no software installed locally, aside
from your standard web browser. This allows a remote administrator monitor, test, and
install upgrades and updates to the software you use. Allowing the end user to forget
Viruses and System Attacks: For as long as we have had the Internet and World Wide
Web as we know it, there have been threats to our systems from malicious persons.
Cloud based software eliminates much of this threat, as cloud based software are
essentially write protected from changes to the core software. This creates one less
weak spot in system security.
Access: Generally, Cloud Based Services allow you to access your files from any computer
that is connected to the Internet. For years, in order to transport our files; we’ve had to
carry portable hard drives, USB flash drives, eat-mail files, burn DVD’s, CD’s, and floppy disks.
Not only were these methods inconvenient, but they were prone to loss of the physical media,
and there were often security concerns when sensitive documents were being transported
with these methods. Most Cloud Based services use strong security and allow you to
access your files anywhere without the inconvenience of bringing along physical media.
With all the advantages, what could be wrong with moving to Cloud Based Services? I
see several distinct disadvantages, some that will be eventually overcome and others
Accessibility of older versions of your files: In the past, you purchased a copy of
a software program, and you could use that program for as long as you wanted; you
could we-install it after a crash or put it on a new computer. Bottom line is that you
always had access to that software, meaning years later you could access files you
created with that program. With cloud based services, not only will updates take
place automatically, they will be out of your control. In a few years, you may very
well find it quite difficult to access your old files when the cloud based programs are
no longer supporting older versions of software.
Dependence on outside vendors at all times: When we use services like Google Apps
we make ourselves dependant on the provider, Google to be able to access and use our
files. While this doesn’t seem like much of a problem with a large company like Google
where it is highly unlikely they will go out of business or abruptly discontinue access to
a service. A smaller company offering cloud based services may offer more reason to be
cautious. Let me give an example;
A cloud based service starts offering, a new accounting system that is targeted
at Veterinarians. The system allows the vet clinics to store all client data,
including medical records in “The Cloud”. This is quite an attractive service
offering to a business that likely has little interest in managing computer systems
and software upgrades.
This data is likely stored in a propriety format at the service provider. So
even if the customer backs up their data, (which is easy to forget when
you know someone is backing it up for you) you rely on that providers
cloud based software to be able to access your files.
If this company suddenly closes up their doors, you no longer have any way to
access your data.
This could be devastating to a business that has become dependant on a Cloud Based
Cost: Most cloud based services are going to charge monthly fees, these can in some cases
add up to far more than the cost of software that you could have purchased and installed.
Availability: You have two potential problems with availability;
1. The cloud based service does have the potential to be offline, while due to
the distributed nature of the cloud, this is not always that likely, but should be
considered a potential problem.
2. Internet Access: With cloud based programs, you are 100% dependant on
having an active Internet Connect available and working.
With Cloud Based services if your in a location that doesn’t have Internet access or the
Internet connection is down, you can’t use your files or the application that you have
become dependant on.
As more competition comes into play, the costs may be driven down, however, we will always
have the potential for problems with “The Last Mile” – that single line connecting your home
or business to the Internet.
Speed: One last disadvantage I will mention, that I hope we will overcome sooner than later,
is speed. For some applications, speed is not too much of an issue and even a slow DSL
connection is fast enough. However, as we have more and more multimedia applications
moving into “The Cloud”, many of the applications demand very high amounts of bandwidth.
Many of todays fastest Internet connections are similar in speed to what was available 10
years ago. We’ve seen some of the DSL and Cable speeds slowly creep up, but for the most
part, we have barely seen the speed of these connections double. 3MB DSL was readily
available in many areas by 2000. Cable at 3MB to 5MB has been available even longer.
I’ve waiting for the next big jump in connection speeds. Wether it is cable, DSL, or some
new last mile technology is hard to say. Some cloud based services have begun to get
frustrating, even with the fastest DSL connection available in my area.
I’m finding cloud based backups to be especially slow as file sizes grow. I backup all my
photos to Google, via their Picasa service, with photos, it is reasonably fast with my
Internet connection, however, as soon as I start uploading video, that is when things
really slow down. It’s pretty easy these days to fill up an 8, 16, or even 32 GB card
with home videos.
As an example; my 6MB DSL has a maximum upload speed of 768K, 1/2 of a MB. That
translates to upload times of(under ideal conditions):
351 MB per Hour
4.2 GB per 12 Hours
8.4 GB per Day
59 GB per week
So that 32GB memory card for your video camera your trying to back-up could take you
4 full days to upload, while not using your connection for anything else. This is quite
unrealistic for most people, as these intensive uploads often make the Internet connection
nearly unusable for anything else. You can run your uploads only at night when your
not using the Internet, but running that upload only at night, will cause your 32GB
upload to take nearly 2 weeks to complete.
It seems like I am constantly waiting for uploads to finish, often having to pause them
if I want to use other services. For example, even when running uploads from Picas a
in Conserve Bandwidth mode, streaming Netflix is almost impossible to watch.
I really hope that we see some type of upgrade in the speed of “The Last Mile” connections
to the Internet. As more of these cloud based services are developed, we will need this
additional speed more than ever.