There is one basic truth in the Cloud idea- The Cloud is likely to be a lot more efficient than the increasingly overloaded net. Essentially Cloud-like operations like Google docs are commonplace, and there won’t be much of a culture shock coming from the new apps and new capabilities. Some of the information about the Cloud, however, isn't so much cloudy as downright foggy.
The New York Times
explains how the bandwagon is picking up speed:
Remarkably fast, a multibillion-dollar industry is moving away from personal computers made mostly with Microsoft Windows software and Intel semiconductor chips. The combined revenue from these largely so-called Wintel desktops and laptops last year was about $70 billion at Dell and Hewlett-Packard. But these companies played virtually no part in the June shows from Apple, Microsoft and Google.
Fascinating as all this may be, and some of it is, the bottom line for Cloud consumers has yet to be defined. On the same page as the NYT article is a Cloud service “pay by the month” option. There’s reason for some skepticism on the part of consumers in relation to a super-hyped new environment with attached charges.
The usual, inelegant and bloodsucking process for a new online market is:
New gadgets, with attached prices
New options, with attached prices
New services, with attached prices
New service providers attaching prices
Prices added to prices
Much talk and hype about great prices
If you recall the hardware and software stampede which went from dialup to broadband and wireless, you’ll also remember spending quite a bit on upgrades. Services, notably the ridiculously expensive phone contracts, also managed to add a few trillion bucks for themselves. The internet, in fairness, did cut overheads massively for both consumers and businesses compared to the hopeless old paper technology. The problem is that the digital sector was learning as it went, too, back then. It’s not, now. There’s a generation of sales techniques and gouging practices to contend with. Cloud services aren’t likely to be sold at cost.
The hardware issues will be interesting to watch as they evolve. A lot of tablets and phones are already very much Cloud-oriented, and most basic internet services can operate quite easily and probably faster and more efficiently.
Expect also some “wow factor” sales pitches. The Cloud in its various forms, with its huge capacity, is at least theoretically capable of holding an Olympic Games in 3D or streaming every TV channel on Earth without raising much of a sweat. This really is new territory, and even mainstream media’s tired old bones might get some new life out of cheaper streaming- If they can get it, which is debatable.
(Note: This doesn’t even deal with the sheer power of possible applications carrying big dataloads which the net can’t really run. Imagine World of Warcraft with 500 million players, and you get the idea.)
The Cloud issues nobody’s saying much about are also worthy of note. If the world is about to be hit with yet another semi-understood global system running it, a few questions are worth asking:
1. How transparent and accountable is the corporate-controlled Cloud likely to be?
The internet was originally derived from government Cold War and Space Age communication systems. This thing is a new species.
2. How safe is the Cloud for consumers and business?
If something goes wrong or crashes on the internet, it’s a relatively local event. A Cloud crash could be quite spectacular- and destructive.
3. If someone goes after Cloud servers (these things are gigantic by internet standards) and knocks them out, what happens?
Add to this the fact that server attacks are the most common form of cyber warfare, and it’s not really the same thing, is it?
4. Do terms of service for Cloud functions cover risks?
These risks could be to intellectual property, finances, professional data, business confidentiality, or even real time medical monitors and life support systems.
5. Is the Cloud likely to be immune to criminal attacks?
If it’s the category-killer it’s supposed to be, the Cloud will be the new turkey at Thanksgiving for criminal attacks.
6. Is being dependent on the Cloud being functional a good idea?
More than likely it’s not. A local server crash can bring business to a standstill until it’s fixed. What if the world’s finance system servers crash? Presumably re-routing is an option, but what are the backup scenarios for truly catastrophic crashes?
7. What about civil liberties, privacy, and the other routinely ignored issues on the internet?
Is there any reason to believe the Cloud will make operators change their ways? That’s a big question, because it’s easily foreseeable that people’s entire information will be on the Cloud.
Law is not enough for these issues
. The internet has never convinced anyone that it’s really working on privacy and risks, despite many genuine efforts. Believing in a new system will take some time, and a lot more information than has so far been available. It must be possible for people to be sure that they have control over who sees their information. There need to be real opt-outs, real safeguards and reliable checks to make sure that “private” means real privacy. You need to know what the risks of any service are, particularly if you’re dependent on it. At this point, nobody seems to be trying too hard to find the problems, or even if they exist.
The Cloud will be a new era. It will be a big deal, but probably for reasons nobody even knows exist yet. Cybercrime and cyber-everything else were unknown a generation ago. Expect to learn a new language, too.