Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Today's Forecast: Cloudy with a Chance of Data

There has been a lot of chatter related to "the cloud" lately, so I decided I would weigh in on it.  The extended forecast looks sunny for cloud computing.  How archaic to say that "it" is in the ether, or on the Internet, or stored on a server.  At least it's not another acronym.

Simply stated, cloud computing is little more than storing your pictures, music, video, and documents on a remote computer that allows you to access it from any place, and any device that supports an Internet connection. As more people connect from locations other than their home computer, or multiple devices they own, access from anywhere becomes more ideal.

I won't get into the details of how cloud computing works, instead I'll focus on what's good and bad about it.

Its strong points:

1. Services are becoming less expensive, or free, as options for remote storage becomes more popular.  Keep in mind, most companies providing cloud storage are selling other services to stay in business.

2. Some providers, such as Google, allow shared editing of documents.  An incredible feature when you want to collaborate with others.

3. Your computer no longer has to be the hub for all your other devices with which to sync.

4. Access anytime, anywhere

Its weak points:

1. The big ones here are privacy and security.  You are trusting total strangers with maintaining your personal stuff and keeping their systems secure.  Be sure to read the agreements before committing to a provider.  You are being granted access to your stuff under their rules.  Providers may monitor activity and may share data with law enforcement without notifying you first.

2. Lack of connectivity, slow Internet connections, poor cellular connections, or non-secure (open) wireless networks could negatively impact access.

3. Weak passwords, or lack of file encryption, can leave you vulnerable.  Consider providers that allow you to encrypt your data before pushing it to their cloud.

4. No protocol currently exists that would make migrating your data from one service to another easy.

There are numerous companies offering cloud storage.  Apple recently retooled their Mobile Me service and relabeled it iCloud.  Amazon, Dropbox, HP, and Dell are just a few others to offer cloud services.

The point oh: Right now, cloud storage might be best suited to storing encrypted backups of your data while you still store your working files locally.  The benefit of this is that you have off-site backups of your data in the event of a local disaster.  That is not to say you can't use the cloud for other purposes.  I use Google docs for those few documents I like to be able to access no matter where I am.  Other than that, my email is the only thing I fully store in the Cloud.  I am just not ready to place my entire digital life in the hands of others.  I don't need to have access to all my stuff everywhere I go anyway.  And, since I have lived this long without it, I am certain I am not missing anything, yet.  My personal feeling is that the Cloud is the future, but it is still a toddler.  For me, it will take baby steps to embrace it completely.  Eventually, I imagine, I will have my head in the clouds.

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