The Un-“Cloud”ed Day

Keeping your data – and your software – “in the cloud” is very big these days.  The big idea, of course, is that you can access the program and/or data from anywhere.  So handy!

First, a word about words.  “In the cloud” sounds so ethereal, somehow.  One tends to think of one’s programs and data floating around over one’s head in a fluffy white cloud.

The reality?  Data and programs stored “in the cloud” are actually stored on a hard drive somewhere.  Actually in a series of hard drives, connected by networking software.  Here’s an explanation from Wikipedia:

Cloud computing is a jargon term without a commonly accepted non-ambiguous scientific or technical definition. In science, cloud computing is a synonym for distributed computing over a network and means the ability to run a program on many connected computers at the same time. The popularity of the term can be attributed to its use in marketing to sell hosted services in the sense of application service provisioning that run client server software on a remote location.

…Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but as well as dynamically re-allocated as per demand… For example, a cloud computer facility which serves European users during European business hours with a specific application (e.g. email) while the same resources are getting reallocated and serve North American users during North America’s business hours with another application (e.g. web server).

…Proponents claim that cloud computing allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of infrastructure. Proponents also claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand

…Several deterrents to the widespread adoption of cloud computing remain. Among them, are: reliability, availability of services and data, security, complexity, costs, regulations and legal issues, performance, migration, reversion, the lack of standards, limited customization and issues of privacy.

(“Cloud Computing” article, Wikipedia [my emphasis])

So what’s the problem with storing your data and programs on some networked hard drive somewhere instead of on your own computer on your own desk?  Let’s focus on one:  “availability of services and data”.

A while ago, my Internet connection went down – a not-uncommon experience in small-town and rural areas.  I had no Internet connection for the entire morning – no access to email, no connection to social media sites, no direct access to my business website.

Frustrating?  You bet!

Did it keep me from doing any work?  NO – because MY programs and data are stored directly on my own computer (on which I am typing at this very moment).  If I had been using “cloud”-based data storage, and/or “cloud”-based software, I would have lost the whole morning’s productivity.

That day’s problems were caused by a problem with my ISP.  Maybe some hardware failed somewhere, or maybe someone drove into a power pole – no way of knowing (or predicting.  Or controlling).

That’s not the only potential source of trouble, either.  What about a technical problem with the cloud service provider?  A natural disaster or power outage affecting not your own area, but the area where your data happens to be stored?  Human error (or actual wrongdoing) on the part of one of the unseen, unknown people who are in charge of handling the whole system where YOUR data and programs are stored?

There are potential problems with keeping all your programs and data on your own hard drive, too, the biggest one being equipment failure.  (Which means you need to BACK UP YOUR COMPUTER REGULARLY – something which will be covered in another blog post!)

BUT – keeping everything on your own hard drive gives you much more direct control.  Some companies – ones that need to share data, or ones where the people travel extensively – may find the advantages of “cloud” computing outweigh the disadvantages.  For small businesses, entrepreneurs, churches, and other users limited to a few people and one (or at least one main) location, the advantages of keeping your business essentials under your own control have to be considered first.

Because – think about it – what is the life-span of a cloud?

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