Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Danger in the Cloud?

There is a fair amount of debate amongst computer folk about Cloud Computing. This is where data and increasingly applications run on servers in the Internet 'cloud' rather than the device of the user. The approach is championed by players such as Google and Amazon etc. But other more traditional players are also not to be left out. Both Apple and Microsoft have flirted with the cloud approach too. Apple have their MobileMe offering which even has an icon of a white cloud on a blue background! This provides a store in the cloud for users' data which can be synced between devices as well as other features. In early 2008, Microsoft bought an innovative company called Danger who ran a product called Sidekick. Sidekick stores its users' data in the cloud. On the 2nd October, SideKick users on T-Mobile's network could not access their online services nor their data. Even after service was restored four days later, they still had not access to their data and were later told by Microsoft/Danger that the data had been lost. This is the real danger for cloud-based systems.

There are degrees of cloud computing ... it doesn't have to be an all or nothing situation ... particularly in the case of mobile devices, which generally need charging or other basic processes from time to time. Some less than full cloud computing approaches don't remove all of the users' control of their data but simply automate the use of the cloud as a resource. Apple's approach for example is that all data on an iPhone or iPod is backed up on the user's local PC when it is charged and synced to that device, even though the active use of the device transfers the data to their MobileMe cloud. In this way, if the Microsoft's Danger/Sidekick problem happened at MobileMe, users would at least be able to restore data from their most recent local backup. Microsoft also have a cloud based service called MyPhone for Windows Mobile users. This also only backs up data to the cloud and not a local device.

So users have to be wary of vendors who place all of their data and its backups in the all powerful cloud which of course also offers many benefits for sharing and accessibility from anywhere etc. And users would also do well to understand that not all Cloud services are the same in respect of how much control they are left with for their own data.

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