Clouds: Just Water and Particulates

May 8, 2011

Faith, Security, Technology

What is cloud computing?  There are so many definitions.  I won’t trivialize the subject by recounting a litany of terms.  But I’ve been in computing for over thirty years.  And “the cloud” looks a lot like data center computing in the mainframe era or data center computing in the client-server era.

I find it curious that cloud computing emphasizes “the cloud” rather than the client.  We used to draw diagrams with a cloud that represented the network and the services that weren’t under our control.  We controlled the things at the edge.  We were the client.  And then we connected clients to “the cloud” that linked one set of users with other users (or servers).  So the cloud was something that we didn’t dare describe.  It was fluffy and “out there” for someone else to deal with.  We trusted someone else to ensure its maintenance, availability and security.

Microsoft tells us to take our computing “to the cloud.”  Their slick ads are fascinating – especially when you consider that they are just repackaging Windows Live.  They want us to trust their services to fulfill our needs.  That means Passport.  That means storage.  That means chat and mail.  And that means trust.  We should trust them to do what we need to have done.

Amazon has launched its “cloud” services in the form of the Amazon Cloud Drive.  I’ve written about this one before.  And I really like it.  And Amazon has a killer retail purchasing and fulfillment infrastructure.  To Amazon, a  “cloud service” is anything that they control.  Hmmm.  That sounds a lot like Microsoft’s definition.  Of course, we trust Amazon – because they aren’t someone “nefarious” (like Microsoft).  And when we use Amazon’s cloud services, we buy things from Amazon.  In my case, I’ve recently bought all sorts of music from Amazon.  I don’t even want to tell my wife how many dollars that I’ve spent.

And Google has always had cloud-based services.  They include web mail, web chat, web images, web apps, and even web printing.  I like a lot of Google’s services – especially since I use a Google Android-based phone.  And like Amazon, Google can claim some followers just because they aren’t Microsoft.  The claim is simple: “we know you can’t trust Microsoft – so trust us instead.”

[Note: The silly claim that we should eschew Microsoft reminds me so much of the “anyone but IBM” crowd that emerged during the PC era.  Or was that the “anyone but Sun” crowd that emerged during the early client-server era.  Or is that the “anyone but Google” crowd that is starting to gain steam these days.]

With that background, let’s charge to the premise: there are good and bad aspects to “cloud computing.”  Like real clouds, good things come from the sky.  Rain comes from the sky.  Rain is needed for life and health.  But there are also bad things that come from the cloud.  All you have to do is see a lightning storm or read the recent reports from the South: storms can kill.

Cloud computing shares this zen view of things.  The cloud offers great advantages.  You can “outsource” lots of mundane tasks to someone else.  They can do the heavy lifting. Microsoft can do the legacy PC work.  Amazon can do the retail purchasing and fulfillment work.  Google can do the search and data mining services.  And Rackspace can meet your hosting needs.  [Note: You can also buy all sorts of services from service providers like WordPress.  For example, I just bought a premium theme from them.]

But along with the needed “rain” that comes with the cloud, there are some fierce downsides with cloud computing.  If you trust someone who makes mistakes (uh, like everyone does), then bad things can happen.  For example, you could have your gaming data compromised when PSN is compromised.  Thankfully, I don’t have a PS3.  And I’m not on the PSN network.  But I do use LastPass.  So who is the bigger fool?  Is it my future son-in-law who lost things via PSN or is it me?

My bottom-line is simple.  If you trust someone else, you are risking the violation of that trust.  That violation can be intentional or unintentional.  Do not consider anything as safe.  From my vantage point, everyone can fail.  Indeed, the only way to ensure the safety of your valuables is to store them where moths and rust cannot attack them.  The only secure investment of trust is an investment in our Savior.  Here’s my tired, old motto: In God we trust.  All others pay cash.

But between now and the hereafter, I have to make daily trust decisions.  My current trust decisions are as follows:

  • I trust Bank of America with my cash flow.
  • I trust Fidelity with my investment portfolio.
  • I trust Amazon for purchasing and delivery.
  • I trust Google for authentication, search and generalized web-services (like mail, voice and remote services).
  • I trust the government for defense services (both locally and internationally).
  • I trust local governments for traffic services.
  • I trust my wife for almost all meta-services.  I also trust her as my most intimate financial adviser/partner.  And while I can cook, I really do trust her to give me a better standard of living.  [Note: I trust Bailey for cookies.]

In summary, the cloud is nothing new.  It is simply the investment of trust in an external provider.  In the past, we trusted everything to a small number of providers.  Today, that circle of trust is much wider.  So we have to be more savvy as we manage an ever-widening trust ecosystem.  Be prepared to switch providers quickly.  Be prepared to do periodic reviews of anyone who provides you with trusted services.  And please remember that the only person who you can truly trust is the one who created you and the one who died for you.

Finally, let’s talk analogies and symbolism.  God created you and He died for you.  Easter was the ultimate reminder of that simple fact.  But the example you should remember today is your Mom.  She carried you and she nurtured you.  And she would surely die for you.  On this Mother’s day, remember to thank your Mom for being the foundation of your trust ecosystem.

-Roo

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