Our slow migration into the cloud

There’s been a lot of talk about the cloud lately. I’m not sure exactly when clouds came to represent noisy server farms thousands of miles away, but it’s pretty much a done deal. From Amazon’s Cloud Drive to Google’s Cloud Print, we’re well on our way to packing up our digital lives and moving them into distant digital time shares, rendering local mass storage all but obsolete for us end users.

I’ve been watching this great migration with a mixture of eagerness and dread. My eager side has already compelled me to use the cloud as repository for my e-mail (Gmail), photos (Picasa), videos (YouTube), calendars, and miscellaneous notes (Google Apps). Even data and software that doesn’t belong to me, legally speaking, has become accessible on-demand from the cloud—movies and TV shows (Netflix) and computer games (Steam). For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the ride, and the sense of safety that accompanies decentralized storage is a good one.

However, this skyward momentum now has me grasping for the parachute strings, wondering whether to back out or go further, signing up for Cloud Drive and entrusting the cloud with all of my important personal and professional data—all 37.5GB of it. I’m also trying to figure out what to do once services like Google Music become available outside of the United States. Since I’ve shamefully failed to back up my music collection anytime recently, and my 41GB of assorted music is too voluminous to fit on a single disc or reasonably priced thumb drive, the cloud seems like the most sensible destination. I’m better about backing up important files, but the threat of a fire, robbery, or some other disaster that would destroy the original data and backups alike always looms.

The advantages of a complete transition are obvious. Local hardware failures (or lost backup media) need no longer be accompanied by data loss or followed by painstaking data recovery. That nagging voice at the back of my head telling me to buy an extra terabyte hard drive or two—because, well, the RAID-1 array that holds my important files now isn’t a genuine backup method, is it?—could finally be silenced. Hard-drive purchases could even be rendered unnecessary. When all your data is in the cloud, a low-capacity solid-state drive ought to be all you need. There’s also the obvious advantage of being able to access your data from any device, provided you’ve got the right login, password, and client software. In this age of ubiquitous computing, that might be the most compelling benefit of all. Being able to search all of my work e-mail from my phone while out—either down in the street or in another country—is tremendously convenient.

A number of things need to happen before I can feel safe going all the way, though. Internet connections with faster upload speeds would be a start. My current cable service has a 50Mbps peak downstream speed, but the upstream is capped at 5Mbps. In practice, I’m lucky to push 500KB/s up the pipe. That just ain’t fast enough to shift tens of gigabytes of data in a timely fashion. Less restrictive bandwidth quotas are a must, too, especially for those of us north of the border. If the Internet is to be my wine cellar, I can’t very well be asked to pay a toll every time I carry up a bottle.

Other technical issues come to mind, like data loss in the cloud. Yes, it does happen. More redundancy and smarter software on the server end could all but eliminate that problem, and of course, cloud storage is probably quite a bit safer than a plain-old mechanical hard drive. However, users must have a way to retrieve their data and back it up manually, either on their own computer or through a third-party cloud service. Cloud storage becomes a liability when it’s a one-way street.

A transition to the cloud also requires answers to some troubling questions. For instance, is there a strong enough legal framework to ensure the safety of personal data stored off-site? If someone’s car can be legally considered an extension of their home, what about the piece of the Amazon server that stores their personal files? While I have nothing to hide other than embarrassing first drafts and unflattering vacation photos, I don’t want my data to be handed over to whomever has the financial or political capital to demand it. U.S. or Canadian legislation might not be all I need to worry about, either, since the Internet is slowly eroding traditional Westphalian concepts.

What if, say, a Chinese mega-conglomerate acquires Amazon or Google a decade from now. What happens to my data then? Could a flight to Beijing for a press conference result in my arrest if the Chinese government snooped through my files weeks before and found something it didn’t like? Heck, what if someone plants something in there to get me in trouble? What do I do then?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to see technology slowly redefining the meaning of privacy. After all, these days, employers routinely check up on employees’ Facebook pages before interviews, and kids get in trouble when they inevitably leave an online paper trail after ditching school. That said, there’s a difference between putting ourselves up on display with a public Facebook page and entrusting a third party to keep data confidential. I can’t reasonably expect privacy in the case of the former, but I need strong assurances for the latter. The stakes are just too high.

In the end, our ascent into the cloud might not have too much in common with a quiet ride in a hot-air balloon. Right now, the cloud seems more like a delicious fruit hanging at the top of a tall tree—a tall tree with branches covered in thorns. The payoff is sweet, but the climb is perilous.

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Date: Fri, May 27, 2011 11:50:46 CST

Server: Apache/2.2.3 (Unix) (CentOS/Linux)

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HTTP/6.3.1 200 OK

Date: Wednesday, May 27, 2071 12:11:00

Server: fe80::99bf:d90c:a66b:bb45%13

Session restored. Reconstructing SXML content…

See you on the other side

by Cyril Kowaliski — May 27, 2071

Hi folks. I’ve been putting this off for way too long at this point, but I finally did it—I booked the appointment. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading back to the Google Ascension clinic and getting the procedure done. My doctors tell me carbon death isn’t much further off now (it was a bad idea to eat all those potato chips when I was young, apparently), so I figure I’d better get cracking. I just hope I don’t get hit by a bus walking down the street to the clinic. Wouldn’t that just be the ultimate irony?

If everything works out okay, you can look forward to more news and updates early next week. Current-generation neural interface modulators take about six hours to complete the transfer, I’m told, and the quantum remapping usually goes on overnight. We’re looking at a 96% success rate, which is considerably better than my current odds fighting it out with this dilapidated husk of a body. *cough* I suppose I won’t actually have a body for a while after the procedure’s done, but I pre-ordered one at the Apple Store last month. Hopefully, that means in a few weeks, I’ll be able to resume chasing kids off my lawn in my much more intimidating and shinier iBody. (Yeah, I went with the glossy titanium finish. Sue me.) Everything that makes me, me, will be stored safely across Google’s redundant quantum database centers, however, so I can get hit by as many buses as I want. Whoopee!

Really, what bothers me most about all this is having to walk past all those kids protesting outside the Ascension clinic. One of them had the nerve to throw some novelty dentures at me when I came in for the brain-mapping test yesterday. What are they so angry about? “Oh no, we can’t get jobs! Why don’t the old people just give up and start dying properly again!” Yeah, I’m sure you’ll feel the same way when you get old.

I mean, it’s still considerably cheaper to hire some kid than to keep paying a person with experience that spans three quarters of a century. Shouldn’t they really be picketing their parents’ houses? If mommy and daddy just put down the cash and had the procedure, they’d be able to support their kids past carbon death, too. What’s the use of taking a moral stand if you’re just going to make things difficult for everyone around you, from your family to old farts like me? When you get right down to it, it’s just misguided selfishness.

Oh well, enough about that. It’s time for my nap. I want to be fresh and alert for my going-away party tonight. See you guys on the other side!

Comments closed
    • Saber Cherry
    • 9 years ago

    [quote<]we're well on our way to packing up our digital lives and moving them into distant digital time shares, rendering local mass storage all but obsolete for us end users.[/quote<] Not sure to which "we" you refer, but I'm not part of it. Anything not stored locally is at the whim of corporations and courts, and thus not owned. If you have (e.g.) a digital book reader, or anything from Apple, of course anything stored locally is ALSO at the whim of corporations and courts. So I don't have those things.

      • XA Hydra
      • 9 years ago

      Dang straight.

      Those storage devices have to sit somewhere. My data stays with me on one that I own. Often that gets the replay that goes something like “Oh yeah? What if you have a failure?”…. I back stuff up.. In several places. It isn’t very hard and costs very little.

      Using the internet to store and access things is as old as, well, the internet. Giving up local hardware ( In effect, your own) for organizations that exist for profit is the strange new fad and the last thing I want to do, personally.

      Then there is the connection… While not necessarily likely that I would be away from a connection for any large period of time, I may at some point, and that doesn’t sit well in my mind. To completely rely on that link means I am handcuffed to a payment per month in yet a new way. I use and enjoy the internet, but there are plenty of things I do on a computing device, whether it be a PC, PDA/Tablet, Console that do not need to be online and I certainly don’t want to give them over to some company ( please no responses about copyright of the games, etc. These are in my home and I paid for them. It is an abstract issue. I am not planning on copying or pirating them. They are for all intensive purposes mine )

      The cloud conjures up ideas of freedom in many peoples minds, but boy is it a two way street. If rejecting the kind of “cloud” that is being touted around right now means ending up being “left behind” as some people have humorously warned me, then whatever. To each their own.

    • Sam125
    • 9 years ago

    Ah, the older-than-civilization urge to immortalize oneself by uploading their mind into an interconnected network of server farms and data centers.

      • grantmeaname
      • 9 years ago

      I see what you did there.

      • xzelence
      • 9 years ago

      I like how nobody else commented on the second half of his blog post…

        • highlandr
        • 9 years ago

        I was just thining to myself, “Apache 2.2! Seriously? I sure hope Google isn’t that far out of date by the time they do brain mappings!”

      • eitje
      • 9 years ago

      My favorite part is that he’ll still be working @ TR in 60 years. 🙂

    • End User
    • 9 years ago

    I rely on the cloud for low bandwidth stuff such as email, calendars, file sync and photo sharing. I’m not going to use the cloud for backup.

    • becubed
    • 9 years ago

    The other thing to remember is that they will be storing your data in the cheapest way possible…

    • MadManOriginal
    • 9 years ago

    How is ‘cloud email’ something special, new, or revolutionary? I’ve been using Yahoo email for over a decade, sheesh.

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    People have been storing data online for ages now. As connection speeds increase so does the practical amount of stuff we can store. I guess once it became popular enough people wanted to give it a name besides FTP or whatever protocol you use.

    • ultima_trev
    • 9 years ago

    I’d say from a business standpoint, Cloud Computing is awful. Where I work we have dumb terminals connected to a series of Citrix Xen App servers, the ‘speed’ and ‘reliability’ of which is ‘unparalleled’.

    Oh well, I guess when million dollar SLAs get fined to the businesses, they can just fire the operators, rather than blame the crappy servers which aren’t efficient enough for people to get their jobs done. Of course, it doesn’t help that business try to get away with having less than a skeleton crew to get work does these days.

    In all honesty, I can’t see why multi-billion dollar companies can’t afford desktops for their users. Surely they should have the documents stored on a secured server, but not the apps, at least not common ones like MS Office, IE, Remote Desktop, etc. If I as a mere consumer with a pittance salary can afford 10 cores between 2 workstations and a laptop, why can’t billion dollar businesses afford the same for the operators?

    • jcw122
    • 9 years ago

    The cloud is meaningless. All it is, is that instead of having YOUR servers on site…they are at another location and potentially shared by other customers. I guess you could liken it to the benefits of renting a large complex that would be expensive otherwise, but c’mon, it’s really not revolutionary at all.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 9 years ago

    Someone should create a service that automatically encrypts your data locally and then uploads it to multiple 3rd party back up services so that you data is always secure and available.

    • Arag0n
    • 9 years ago

    I think it’s funnier how seems to be a race for the gigahertz and octo-cores in mobile phones right now. At some point I have the feeling that 2 things can happen:

    1) Phones become powerful enough to do everything you require in a blink of an eye, and pushes the cloud just as an alternative storage for music, video, pictures, documents and files.

    2) Internet connections become fast enough and very-low-latency (less than 30ms) to be able to play games and your applications in the cloud and use your phone just as remote screen, remote input and sensors data. With critical functions beeing built in the OS to avoid problems when data connection is lost.

    What do you think it’s going to win the race? The internet connections or the hardware companies? I feel most of the people will think that I’m crazy about the 2nd one, people won’t want to rely that they have internet connection in home, work and the street and buy something like this but. Did you ever think that you may not have electricity or gas to avoid buying a car or a TV? Our lifes it’s full of things that requires a facility service to work almost 24h/7days to perform as we expect they do. Internet it’s becoming more and more a 24h/7 days facility that never fails and never misses.

    Right now I’m in china and I know what i’m talking about. You never realize things like “hot water” till you are in a drom that has only hot water at scheduled time. You never tho your life to fit with this kind of schedule, require to wake up before some point and go to sleep earlier X time to avoid not being able to sleep. It’s a very stupid thing that changes your planning plenty of days. Now think about electricity beeing rationed just for some hours every day. How would it change your life? If you do the exercise you will understand how we became ultra-dependant of electricity and we never think that it can go down at any point. Same will happen with internet someday.

    • Krogoth
    • 9 years ago

    I don’t understand “cloud computing”. It is just terminal computing with a new name.

    There’s a reason why personal computing took over terminal computing in the mainstream. It will likely remain so far years to come. That is until 1Gbps+ internet connections become commonplace.

      • danny e.
      • 9 years ago


      as far as personal computing, I agree.

      The cloud only makes more sense from a business standpoint.. to push intense calculations to the cloud that can quickly adapt to greater load. Eliminate the need for a local server farm that sits idle for 90% of the time.

      • XA Hydra
      • 9 years ago

      Coming soon: The iTerminal. Although being nothing but a screen and an expensive/exclusive data plan, it’s white and has a battery you can’t replace so it will make millions! ( And it should make millions, because it’s ONLY $799 ) Throw out your crusty old hardware everyone!

      …Couldn’t help myself 🙂

    • frumper15
    • 9 years ago

    I would think the TR staffers would have all set up a FREE crashplan backup strategy amonst themselves. They could even all seed their own backups on drives and ship them to each other to avoid the time and potential data overruns that Cyril fights against. We’ve been talking at length about it here:

    • Firestarter
    • 9 years ago

    Maybe if you have your backups handled in the cloud, your site wouldn’t be down for several minutes everyday like clockwork .

      • StuG
      • 9 years ago

      They do this on purpose.

        • Firestarter
        • 9 years ago

        And they are quite literally they only site I know of that do this.

          • Game_boy
          • 9 years ago

          Is it lack of money to do it? I’d contribute to a donation request if so; it hits 10-11am here.

          • SPOOFE
          • 9 years ago

          They do it just to annoy you. 🙂

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 9 years ago

    Sounds like you need Crashplan+. Secure off-site, options for them to send you a hd you can load up with your data, and then send to them to skip uploading it, plus for $50-ish a year for one PC, your data is encrypted heavily. You have the option to add a password, a passkey, etc, etc to it that is NOT your account password. If you do so, they state uncategorically they cannot help you if you forget or lose your password. The only way they can access your data is if you keep your password the same as your account password, in which case they may be able to access your account p/w and then use that to get to your data.

    Otherwise, the encryption is such that they claim they cannot access it, even if it is to give it to the authorities or to you. They’re pretty adamant about it, too.

    Also, the Crashplan software allows you to encrypt your data to a single drive (no multidrive saves) and/or to another computer, potentially to a friend’s computer for cross-backups, WHILE also doing the cloud. It backs up first to the quicker option (USB drives->other computers->cloud) and then to the next quickest until it does all. Still all encrypted like with the cloud version. Backups can backup USB drives, too, which is something most cloud backup services don’t allow.

    Prices seem reasonable. Speeds are decent. Option to pay to upload by mailed hd one time could be useful for you if you have an upload cap. You also can control the speed and when backups occur. I demo’ed it and liked it a lot. I think the best thing would be to have all your computers back up to a single computer, then have that computer back up itself and its backups to Crashplan. Charging you for the one computer and backing up everything you got.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    Um, Cyril, the guys at Cisco say that ‘the cloud’ is still about one generation away from being ready for ‘mission-critical’ apps, so you might want to re-book that appointment….

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