Friday, 22 July 2011

The Cloud Computing Illusion

ST engineers and staff often work at home or at our different locations. For a very long time ST has been using Google docs to host data that allows them to view or change this data wherever they may be. Suddenly this approach has a name - "the cloud".

Cloud definition:
Cloud refers to the on-demand provision of computational resources (data, software) via a computer network, rather than from a local computer. Users or clients can submit a task to the service provider without actually possessing the software (or hardware).

The implication is that the computational and storage resources are nebulously "out there". But they are not nebulous; they are on someone else's computer; in our case Google but it could be Amazon or anyone else.

"Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a Web service that offers flexible computational power, so a business can avoid the risk and expense of purchasing many servers that they may no longer need at some point in the future. Instead, the company can simply lease server capacity from Amazon, and then scale their usage up or down, depending upon changing business requirements."

Anyone who bought into this hype was seriously let down in April this year when EC2 went down for days on end. I wonder if those companies ever recouped what they lost; are they questioning now the wisdom of their decision?

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GNU operating system, says cloud computing is "stupidity" that ultimately will result in vendor lock-in and escalating costs.

On top of that - even leaving aside the commercial and security aspects - it has limited value. Our Google spreadsheets are useful but only suitable for small sheets. The time to update a large sheet would be way too long. Even small changes take noticeable time. So we are pragmatic and realistic and draw the line as is appropriate. For security we back up Google docs and other services onto our computers (and not the other way round).

Meanwhile I quietly smile at all the iGurus and iT reporters trying to make names for themselves with the "new" technology - which in any case has been around for a decade or more. They even lump email in the list of functions of cloud computing and how long has that been around?