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Editor's Note: Cloud is Just Another Word for "Sucker"

Nov 14, 2009, 00:03 (47 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

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.

Broken Trust

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?

No-Nines Reliability

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? Interpretive dance?

Performance: Haha

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 this.