Should you be on the Cloud?


Cloud computing is the latest in a long line of over-used IT buzzwords. “You need to get on the Cloud,” you’ll read or hear. Well don’t feel panicked because you’re probably already on it. So sit back, relax and I’ll explain it in a little more detail.


Cloud computing basically means storing data and running programs online, rather than having them on your own PC. Examples include webmail, the Heart of England school portal, Dropbox and just about everything Google. The common theme here is that they all depend on the Internet to work.


So let’s say you’re currently using a program installed on your laptop to do your accounts. In future, the software supplier may offer a Cloud-based, monthly fee version where you would logon to their website and enter your details – a bit like filling in your Tax Return Form online. You wouldn’t have to worry about backups or keeping the software up to date; hopefully the supplier would do that for you. However, the supplier is going to have to spend money to buy some new servers to store your data and run those online programs. How will he recoup these costs? After enticing customers onto the service with cheap introductory deals he may have to increase your monthly fees. Now this is where it gets interesting. Instead of buying the servers, he could lease them from someone else based anywhere in the world for the lowest possible price. In other words, he could use the Cloud too! So where exactly would your data reside and would you be able to get to it in an emergency? It might not even be possible to extract your data should you wish to change to a different supplier – you could be locked-in.


Whether you use a laptop at home or run a business, this simple example highlights two important themes concerning your information, Availability and Confidentiality. In recent months there have been some high-profile service failures at Amazon and Skype due to human error and at PayPal and Sony due to malicious attacks. So Cloud services might not always be available. Also recently, Marks & Spencer and both had their, supposedly confidential, customer data stolen from 3rd-parties entrusted with it.


But there is an even bigger issue with cloud computing and internet access in general and that is the relatively slow speeds of the UK broadband networks. On the mobile side, the latest 3rd generation (3G) networks were supposed to deliver high speed mobile networks throughout the country. But these haven’t improved at all in recent years due to the large increase in the number of new smart-phone users wanting to access Facebook every 15 minutes. So now 4th Generation networks are being cited as the solution!


It’s little better with fixed broadband. BT’s new Infinity program is a welcome development but still it is only getting us to where we should have been 5 yrs ago – it’s essentially duplicating the work that the cable companies (now VirginMedia) did many years ago. In an ideal world, BT would be providing high speed fibre connections direct to people’s homes and to rural areas, however, BT shareholders would not see a quick return on these expensive investments. Soon our broadband infrastructure will start to strain even more under the weight of new internet connected TVs and media players providing on-demand films, TV and music. Next month will see the release of Chrome OS laptops. These will run a Google developed operating system which will require an internet connection to run apps and store data. The usability of these devices will depend entirely on your internet connection. Like most forms of cloud computing, they’ll be next to useless without one.


So when it comes to the Cloud, ignore the hype. If you’re using webmail then you’re already on it. If, however, you feel the need to put more on the cloud, then make sure that your broadband connection is quick and reliable. Double-check that any online services or products you choose to use have been thoroughly tested and that their marketing promises and guarantees can be verified. Easy job then!


© Peter Johnston, ByteSupport Ltd  2011.