Cloud computing and consumers

Writing in The Guardian, Cory Doctorow provides a good explanation of why cloud computing might not be so great for individual users. Basically, companies are hoping to use it to wring more money from people, for services that were previously free. As he explains:

[T]he main attraction of the cloud to investors and entrepreneurs is the idea of making money from you, on a recurring, perpetual basis, for something you currently get for a flat rate or for free without having to give up the money or privacy that cloud companies hope to leverage into fortunes.

That’s not to say there aren’t potential advantages. It may well be worth a montly fee for well implemented and highly secure backup, especially for those who aren’t too computer savvy or don’t have access to Apple’s excellent Time Machine product. (Doctorow talks about using Amazon’s S3 service and the Jungle Disk tool.)

Really, backup seems like the cloud computing application with the most value for users, since encrypted backups elsewhere will probably be safe if you are robbed or have your house burn down. Another application with more limited utility might be buying access to huge amounts of computing power, which could be useful for some researchers.

Incidentally, Time Machine isn’t quite good enough for protecting irreplaceable physical data, since your external hard drive could be destroyed in an accident at the same time as your computer, or stolen. While I use Time Machine for daily backups, I also back up critical files (such as my photos) to a hard drive I keep at work and update every few months. A fairly easy way to do this is to keep all your irreplaceable documents in one place – such as username/documents/original/ – and then copying it over to the third drive every few months. rsync is an ideal way to do this, but it isn’t very user friendly.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

7 thoughts on “Cloud computing and consumers”

  1. I think Cory mostly dislikes cloud computing for the systemic privacy implications, whether or not he says so in the article. There is an quite excellent lecture by Eben Moglen on the subject here.

    From the point of view of a start-up company, cloud computing is a godsend. (As indeed the article discusses re:Twitter)

    On more practical matters I highly recommend Dropbox for unbelievably simple cloud backups. It’s just a folder on your computer that magically backs itself up to the cloud. No thinking involved. Also great for syncing files between different PCs and it does version control to boot. Only catch is it’s only free for the first 1 GB, which is plenty for documents but not so good for photos.

  2. I used Dropbox between my home and work computers and found it a nice substitute for a USB drive, when working with non-sensitive files.

    I don’t know how well it would scale to managing 30 GB of photos.

  3. How does cloud computing choke off options for consumers?

    They can always buy their own servers, hard drives, etc if they prefer that.

  4. Why Cloud Storage Is Lousy For Enterprises (and Individuals)

    storagedude points to this article at Enterprise Storage Forum which argues that cloud-based storage options have fatal limitations for both businesses and individuals: “The article makes the argument that high volumes of data and bandwidth limitations make external cloud storage all but useless for enterprises because it could take months to restore the data in a disaster. It also appears to be a consumer problem — the author spent three months replicating 1TB of home data via cable modem to an online backup service.”

  5. Sony’s outage also interrupted third-party services delivered over its network, such as some of Netflix’s online film rentals. Netflix also uses the Amazon data centre that went on the blink, but avoided any problems as a result of this. The secret of its relative resilience is what the company calls its “Rambo Architecture”. Among other things, this means designing different parts of its system—say, the bit that recommends videos and the bit that lets users search for them—so they function independently of each other, making it less likely all will keel over at once. The firm also uses software it designed itself called “Chaos Monkey”, which randomly simulates failures in its cloud-based systems to see how robust they are.

    Some firms bring in specialist advisers to plan, test and manage their technology set-ups in the cloud. Michael Kirven, the boss of Bluewolf, one such advisory firm, says that because Amazon and other providers have made it so easy for companies to shift their services to the cloud, some customers have been lulled into thinking they don’t need the same amount of backup protection as they would elsewhere. But as this week’s events amply demonstrate, although the benefits of doing things online still greatly outweigh the risks, it often pays to be paranoid.

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