The Risks vs. Rewards of Cloud Computing



I was listening to a story on NPR by Laura Sydell called Computing in the Cloud: Who Owns Your Files? The story brought back all of the fears I’ve had about working in the clouds but have suppressed because:

A. I want the convenience that cloud computing offers;

B. I recently experienced the Computer Crash of Doom and want to know I have reliable backups;

C. I want to get more work use out of my iPod Touch and cloud work is the way.

So what was the bottom line of the NPR piece?

Read the User Agreement. Yes, the gist of the story was that none of us are reading the user agreement with Google or Yahoo or any other company that is housing our emails, documents and files. We actually covered that subject last month, but hey, I’m one of those who never, ever reads the user agreement. Who has the time? Who has the brain capacity? Who likes sifting through pages and pages of legalese?

This is a problem, according to Harry Lewis, a computer science professor at Harvard. All someone has to do is accuse you of something – unproven – and the company hosting your files can simply cut you off, close your account, no questions asked, rather than entering into a legal battle.

There are no rules and more importantly – no laws – when it comes to hosting your files.

Ever since I went to Gmail in the clouds from Apple’s Mail on my computer, I’ve wondered “what would happen if Gmail went down…forever?” The entire record of my work over the last three years would be gone. I tried backing up all of my historical Gmails onto my computer once but it was a major undertaking and never became a habit.

If we aren’t reading the user agreements, how can we protect ourselves from major loss in the clouds?

1. Backups of backups? Does it make sense to have the copy on your harddrive along with the copy online? Lately, I’ve been composing my documents in Google Docs and only saving them back on my harddrive as needed. Should I do it as a rule?

2. Backups of backups of backups? Once I save my docs on my computer, my Time Capsule captures them every hour on the hour. But is there a way to get my Time Capsule to pull my cloud work into a backup drive? Or is that an app that is on the way because it is a critical process that is missing from cloud computing?

3. Distributed files. Does it make sense not to have all of your work and files on one system? Sure it seems convenient and integrated to use all of Google’s cloud working solutions, but should we put some of our work – or back up some of our work – on other sites? Like using Dropbox file storage as a repository for anything and everything from everywhere?

4. Being selective. Do we need to be more selective about what we are willing to put online, keep online, and work on in the clouds? Are we getting a little too careless and thoughtless about the ease of cloud computing or rushing to it without a security plan in place because it seems like the place we need to be?

No technology is failsafe or foolproof. When we are using technology for “convenience,” but have to back up that technology “just in case,” are we losing some of that convenience that we are craving? It seems that, as usual, nothing is ultimately free and everything comes with a price.

How much are you willing to spend – and risk – on cloud computing and how are you backing up your work?



I get so angry whenever this comes up. The cloud is a helluva lot more stable and reliable than your PC. The only difference is that when it breaks you can’t fix it.

On the other hand it means you don’t have to fix it, and teams of people who get paid ~$80,000 a year to know how to fix things are on call to fix them, rather than attempting to do it yourself and fucking it up further or asking the kid down the street who means well but can’t do near as good a job in twice the time.

James Urquhart

First of all, Bruce Arnold has been hacking that “nothing is ever new” post across the blogosphere. I’ll respond to it on my blog, The Wisdom of Clouds tonight.

Now, in reference to your excellent post, you might be interested in my recent stab at a Cloud Computing Bill of Rights. One of the key articles has to do with service level ownership. The short-short of how this applies to your situation (and that of all the other consumers out there) is that your level of service is your responsibility. If you want highly reliable, then you must do the work necessary to enhance your provider’s service. Yes, do backups, if you think you might need them someday. Yes, distribute your work if you fear outright failure of any of your vendors…etc, etc, etc.

This is the paradox of the cloud: the technology will be much more reliable than owning your own computer and/or services due to redundancy, etc., but at the same time, you are more responsible than ever for insuring your own data.


Kudos to the Cloud Crowd for Re-Inventing the Wheel!

One thing 30 years in the IT industry has taught me is that the more things
change, the more they stay the same. Another is that the only memory we
seem to access is short-term. A third is that techno-marketeers rely on
that, so they can put labels like “revolutionary” and “innovative” on
platforms, products and services that are mere re-inventions of the wheel
… and often poor copies at that.

A good example is all the latest buzz about “Cloud Computing” in general and
“SaaS” (software as a service) in particular:

Both terms are bogus. The only true cloud computing takes place in
aircraft. What they’re actually referring to by “the cloud” is a
large-scale and often remotely and/or centrally managed hardware platform.
We have had those since the dawn of automated IT. IBM calls them

The only innovation offered by today’s cloud crowd is actually more of a
speculation, i.e. that server farms can deliver the same solid performance
as Big Iron. And even that’s not original. Anyone remember Datapoint’s
ARCnet, or DEC’s VAXclusters? Whatever happened to those guys, anyway…?

And as for SaaS, selling the sizzle while keeping the steak is a marketing
ploy most rightfully accredited to society’s oldest profession. Its first
application in IT was (and for many still is) known as the “service bureau”.
And I don’t mean the contemporary service bureau (mis)conception labelled
“Service 2.0” by a Wikipedia contributor whose historical perspective is
apparently constrained to four years:

Instead, I mean the computer service bureau industry that spawned ADAPSO
(the Association of Data Processing Service Organizations) in 1960, and
whose chronology comprises a notable part of the IEEE’s “Annals of the
History of Computing”:

So … for any of you slide rule-toting, pocket-protected keypunch-card
cowboys who may be just coming out of a fifty-year coma, let me give you a
quick IT update:

1. “Mainframe” is now “Cloud” (with concomitant ethereal substance).

2. “Terminal” is now “Web Browser” (with much cooler games, and infinitely
more distractions).

3. “Service Bureau” is now “Saas” (but app upgrades are just as painful,
and custom mods equally elusive).

4. Most IT buzzwords boil down to techno-hyped BS (just as they always

Bruce Arnold
Web Design Miami Florida

Comments are closed.