Cloud computing. It’s awesome but it’s not awesome really.

Posted in Google, Issues, Technology by The Editor | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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Cloud computing. It, along with virtualization are the two hottest things in the IT industry today. It’s also had a bit of a rough day today.

Virtualization speaks for itself (assuming you, the dear person reading this are IT savvy). If it doesn’t, to put it in basic terms, virtualization gives users the ability to consolidate several computers in to one ‘host’ computer. As an example let’s say I build one physical computer. I can then install virtualization software on that computer and effectively install multiple computer operating systems on to one computer. It therefore eliminates the cost of hardware and thus puts a nice big smile on the face of whoever handles the IT budget at your place of work.

Thus the few (!) folk out there that truly rely on Google’s lovely applications to get through their busy work days (and believe me, there are lots of these users; mostly working for companies with an IT budget of zero that see Google Applications as a cost-cutting superhero and who can blame them?) were left with nothing for the best part of 2 to 3 hours today.

The other hot topic in IT today is ‘cloud’ computing. It too uses consolidation (and also synchronization) to form its heartbeat. The difference being that the ‘cloud’ part means data is stored online (the cloud). This also means that all devices connected to the cloud (with relevant permissions of course) can access the data and any changes made to the data will be synchronized across all devices with access to the cloud.

A comedic view on cloud computing

A comedic view on cloud computing

There are currently two major mainstream examples of cloud computing available today, lots of other companies are joining the wagon at almost breakneck pace but we’ll concentrate on these two for this article. You may well have heard of them (sense the irony approaching); Google Applications and Microsoft Mesh. Granted Mesh is still in its beta infancy and will probably lose its ‘free’ status once it hits the market proper.

Google Applications (which forms the concentration of this blog entry) consist of a variety of tools, the most well known would comprise of Mail (or Gmail), Reader, Calendar and Docs. For the unfamiliar Gmail is your standard webmail (think hotmail, yahoo mail etc) client. Reader is (as you’ve probably gathered from my previous post) a fantastic RSS/Atom feed management tool. Calendar is the same as your calendar feature in Microsoft Outlook. Finally Docs is a fully fledged document viewing application, suitable for all those PDF and Word files you know and love. The ‘cloud’ formed here comes from the fact that all of these applications are offered to the end user by Google and hosted by Google (e.g. provided to you by Google for use online). The cloud is amassed further by these applications being accessible by the end user with any device they choose to use (including special Google applications for BlackBerry, iPhone and other mobile devices). For the cherry on the cake, all of these applications, from wherever you choose to access them, will remain in perfect synchronization with each other regardless of what you do with them. That’s your mainstream cloud computing right there.

It’s brilliant, it really is. Except it’s not really.

You see today, Google had a bit of a rough time keeping its Gmail application online. Thus the few (!) folk out there that truly rely on Google’s lovely applications to get through their busy work days (and believe me, there are lots of these users; mostly working for companies with an IT budget of zero that see Google Applications as a cost-cutting superhero and who can blame them?) were left with nothing for the best part of 2 to 3 hours today.

Zip, zilch, nada.

Right there is your problem. A percentage of users are so reliant on the ‘Google cloud’ that when it messed up today they were left with no fail-over to carry on with their work while Gmail was out of action. The same situation would apply within your workplace if (how IT industry brush-wielders see it anyway) cloud computing becomes the true staple of enterprise solutions.

It won’t. I guarantee it. At least not in the near future anyway.

Cloud computing at present is too risky. Especially for those who effectively have given ownership of their data to Google by using their ‘cloud apps’. If the cloud dies, and you become 110% reliant on it, you’re done for. Everything stops (as I am sure it did for many Google Applications users today). It certainly did for me. I guess it was fate telling me not to rely on the cloud as I was waiting for a really important email to arrive when the outage kicked in. Before this clash of fates amalgamated today I (on reflection) feel I put too much faith in the reliability of the Google cloud. Gmail (according to the Google dashboard status updates) was still accessible via POP and IMAP setups. For me, with POP and IMAP access not set up I had no other way to access my Gmail at such a crucial time.

How very appropriate.

How very appropriate.

I was infuriated. How could this be happening? A company as large as Google suffering downtime with their most popular application was for me a personal travesty. It was only when Gmail was brought back online that the aftershocks hit home and changed my outlook on cloud computing.

This evening, as I write this during the outage aftermath, I now feel entirely different about cloud computing. I wonder how many other users had developed a reliance on the cloud and what the future of this current hot topic may well be. I don’t think we will ever reach a point, at least in the Enterprise market, where information is stored and exchanged entirely within the cloud. That would just be stupid. On top of that I cannot see this happening from a security point of view. Leaving sensitive or classified data online presents a whole host of security issues that are significantly reduced with secure remote connectivity that is perfectly capable for the task and in widespread use today.

Cloud computing certainly has its audience but I can safely say with great confidence that I think it is more for the mass mainstream market and certainly not something that will be widely adopted by Enterprise.

I’ll leave it at that for now and let the good people at Google continue licking their wounds tonight.

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