Lewis' Blog Tales from the trenches of information technology


Why the concept of “The Cloud” is as old as dirt, and about as useful

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The Cloud

Cloud? Mist? Fog?

I can't stand it.

I have reached the end of my rope with this stupid, stupid buzzword: The Cloud.

Cloud? Does anyone even know from where (or how) this term was derived? Likely from the typical symbol used to indicate the space between networks. This could be the public internet, an intranet, or even the PSTN (for those youngsters who may not be familiar with that acronym, that's the Public Switched Telephone Network, or the "phone system").

So, what the h-ll is it?

In the late 1990's, the big internet acronym was ASP (Application Service Provider). The concept was a good one, though fraught with numerous problems: security, performance, the stability of the provider's network infrastructure, the quality of the connection on the client's side of the link, and of course, the usual customer service issues.

The idea was simple: instead of purchasing your own application and the big iron to run it, you could essentially "rent" the application on someone else's systems (what we now call "hosted") and pay for it based on time, number of concurrent or overall users, volume of data storage, and/or a number of other factors.

Sound familiar? It should. Web hosting has been done like this for ages. In fact, since the internet became a "public" space and smaller companies (and individuals) who did not own their own web servers but who were desirous of maintaining a web presence, web server space has had a market. Likewise, hosted email systems have flourished over the years. YouTube is a major player in this type of space. They host files (audio & video). Their revenue model, however, is to mainly collect from third parties, in the form of advertising, vs charging the hosting clients directly (in most cases). Still, the concept of "your stuff, stored & accessed from somewhere else" is the same.

The security issue becomes the main concern (to me). What is to keep one of these outfits from setting up offshore somewhere (offshore here refers to outside the US - or outside your country, wherever that might be), accessing your data, selling it to some third party/ies, and then just closing up shop? Nothing. Not every country has a treaty with my country. If I am wronged in this manner, I'm pretty much out of luck.

In addition, I have no guaranty that the provider of these so-called "cloud" services has the infrastructure in place to handle my load once he takes on a dozen more clients.

I'm not completely down on the whole IaaS or SaaS ("Infrastructure as a Service" or "Software as a Service") idea. I just think that like most things, it has its uses, and it is not the answer to everyone's problems in all cases, contrary to what the marketing types would like the huddled masses to think.

Web hosting, where data is not particularly private, and where downtime isn't going to cause someone loss of life, liberty, or money (loss of happiness is a bit easier to bear, when compared to the others), makes sense if the cost is commensurate with the risk. Likewise, email hosting works the same way. However, putting my financial data on someone else's server(s), located who-knows-where (and just because the company's website says the facility is located in New Jersey doesn't - and I hate to break this to some of you - necessarily mean that that's really where it is), and with g-d-only-knows who running it, just doesn't sound like the best idea for me, as compared to hosting my own data on a server in the next room, run by me or by someone hired and trained by me (and that's not to say that it is ever entirely safe to trust anyone with your data).

The Cloud is merely the latest marketing hype word for something hosted somewhere else. Whether that something is your website, your email system, your backup (I'll save my rant about offsite backup for another post), or your precious business-critical data, it's exactly the same: you, giving up control over your data to someone else, located somewhere else, and usually replicated across two to two hundred servers, over which the only control you have is the power to withhold payment for services.

Sounds pretty thin to me, more like The Fog than the Cloud.

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    What, are they kidding me? Cloud Is The World’s Economic Opportunity.

    I don’t understand what’s so hard to understand, when we read almost daily of security breaches and failures (can anyone say, “Blackberry?”) of “cloud”-hosted solutions (and I use the term “solutions” very loosely).

    Oh, well…

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