As much as we warn about privacy, security, and reliability
problems in cloud computing, it's coming and we can't stop it. So
do we join the cloud party? Heck no.
It seems like it should have some advantages. Geeks back in the
olden days used to say that a simple network appliance running
hosted applications would be a good thing for unsophisticated
users. Pay a monthly fee just like for phone services, use a
subsidized terminal, and let the vendor have all the headaches of
security, provisioning, system administration, updates, backups,
and maintenance. What a boon for the business owner-- outsource to
a service provider, no muss, no fuss, and everyone is happy.
Well here we are on the threshold of this very thing, and now the
geeks are complaining and warning against it. Why? Because we like
to be perverse? Well maybe that is part of it. But for me the
biggest problem is trust. I don't trust many tech vendors because
they haven't given me any reasons to trust them, and plenty of
reasons to not trust them. Over and over and over and over and over
and over and over.
Why would I entrust them with my data when they do not respect
my privacy or the privacy of my data? In the US personal privacy is
not protected, and vendors who mangle and lose your personal or
business data pay no penalty or recourse, other than bearing the
brunt of your peeve. Marketers are all about privacy invasion, as
much as they can get away with, and collecting, mining, and buying
and selling us. Even worse, service providers roll over at the
slightest "boo", releasing customer records at toothless DMCA
takedown requests, and caving in to law enforcement without even
making them go through due process. Where are all those attack
lawyers when they can do some good for a change?
Reliability is a second issue. Google and Skype, to give two famous
examples, have distributed datacenters but both have suffered a
number of outages and service interruptions. (Speaking of Skype,
the excellent columnist J.A. Watson
doesn't think much of them.) Even if the cloud vendor has
perfect uptimes there are many weak links between the customer and
datacenter. In this glorious year 2009 of the 21st century it is
still a common recommendation to have two diverse Internet
connections. But even if you want to spend the money the wires are
consolidated and have a small number of chokepoints. Like when a
fiber cable near Pendleton, Oregon was cut a couple of years ago,
and it wiped out much of the telephone and Internet for Eastern
Oregon. Or when backbone providers have spats with other over
peering agreements and teach each other lessons by cutting each
other off, leaving customers stranded. So what do we do for
redundancy, train some carrier pigeons? Learn ham radio?
The third problem is why in the heck would any sane person trade in
their nice sleek efficient standalone applications for a horrible
boggy Web browser abomination with a hundredth of the
functionality? I do demanding jobs on my studio computer, both
audio production and photo editing. You know what kicks my CPU into
the red zone and keeps it there, and eats RAM like popcorn and hits
the swap partition until it's crying for mercy? Not loading and
editing a gigabyte audio file, or converting a big batch of
multi-megabyte RAW files. What brings my whole system to a halt
until some half-baked junk script finishes running? Plain old Web
surfing and various Web apps I have to use. I'm not keen to buy a
desktop supercomputer just to have decent browser performance.
Nobody would even be looking at Web apps if we didn't have all
these closed, proprietary file formats and steep barriers to
migrating to sane, open platforms and applications.
The cloud, software as a service, hosted applications, whatever
you want to call it is coming. The concepts are useful, but I have
little faith in the implementations.
A Practical Alternative
As always in Linux-land, there is a role for the do-it-yourselfer
to turn dung into gold. Come back next week and I will tell about