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Random thoughts on: Cloud computing

by Pascal Opitz on November 1 2008, 15:14

Cloud computing, as in Software as a Service and web based applications and APIs, is hailed as the Web 3.0 and might also be the nail in the coffin for vendors that sell expensive office suites, at least it's trying to be.

And they are brilliant, those apps. The fact that pretty much everyone I ask uses Gmail, just to handle the spam volume, and finds that it works much better than Thunderbird or Outlook, speaks for itself. Providers of large scale services of course have more money than we ever imagine, more man power to refine their apps, more hardware, more redundancy, more you name it...

And who could overhear the amazing stories behind all the mashups, that use google maps for example, or some other cool API, to do something amazing that otherwise would have been unachievable or at least very expensive and therefore not happening at all?

Of course, harvesting the benefits of cloud computing means that I surrender the power to control my information, and its privacy, to someone else, often more powerful and of trustworthy intentions. Also, the more I trust external services the more I am building up dependencies that could really rock my boat, if one of them stops provision of services for whatever reason, like in the case of poor Loren Baker, who got locked out of his Google accounts and therefore couldn't access any of his business email or documents.

Quite worrying indeed, and while many people ask something like "well, what did he do in order to be locked out, the poor sod" and others, like GNU guru Richard Stallman, feel that cloud computing is a trap that we're falling into, as soon as we give up control.

But how safe are private computers, really? Who didn't have a failed hard drive here, please raise your hand now? How good is your backup strategy? And how different is renting a mailserver from a company to do your business from using Gmail to the same?

My guess is that, if you have a root server somewhere, at least you can point at the contract and say: "I am renting this service from you, so as long as I pay you have no right to change the mode of provision".

Otherwise, with major companies changing their minds about strategies, about what they do want to support and what they don't, all we are left with is their good will and kindness, something that we cannot always count on, as seen with apples .Mac service, which was promised to us as the email that was "free for life".

Also, if things like this happen, how do you get the data out of these services? It seems immoral to introduce changes and not offer a transition period where some sort of migration should be possible. But I haven't yet found "export all emails to other imap server" function in Gmail (only the other way round is instantly possible), even though this might be exactly what's needed to make cloud computing a fair deal for the user.

So for all of you out there, that base their businesses entirely on other businesses APIs, what is your strategy to overcome issues like this? Is there a fallback strategy, when one service that you're utilizing drops out?


  • [Link here] I dont think a fallback is still not in place. A practical example of this is the SnugMug outage which happened a couple of months back. This caused Twitter to be down for one day , I guess this shows that there is LOT in cloud computing which still needs to be looked at . To me its just another hype right now.

    by Sujay on November 7 2008, 08:40 - #

  • Interesting comment. The SmugMug outage, was that in fact an outage of Amazons S3?

    This of course is a whole other scope of problems beyond the privacy and control issues I outlined above. Whether or not an Amazon S3 outage is more likely to happen than your average hosted box being down, I don't dare to comment on.

    by Pascal Opitz on November 7 2008, 09:42 - #

  • @sujay: Uuuuum, SmugMug is a photo sharing service and their outage is very unlikely to have taken down Twitter. If I remember correctly, Twitter is hosted on owned servers, not a commercial cloud, although their image assets are on S3. If you want a proper cloud computing nightmare story look up the Flexiscale outage from earlier in the year. I had a couple of friends whose products were taken completely out of action for days on end. I suspect that's immaturity in the technology though not a nail in the coffin for the idea. All the big boys are wading in with offerings so it won't be long before there's a serious and reliable option. At the end of the day though it's a strategic decision. Do you need complete control and an ironclad SLA? The host your own stuff and hire a room full of SysAdmins. Do you need flexibility and a low barrier to entry? Get a cloud deal and offload your infrastructure. The choice is yours.

    by Mike Stenhouse on November 7 2008, 13:51 - #

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