Thursday, May 19, 2011


This article originally appeared in the 5.19.11 issue of Metroland

Everybody’s talking about The Cloud. Microsoft, in a series of typically cloying advertisements designed to communicate simple ideas to folks who aren’t all that bright, has actors proclaiming, like so many low-rent Captain Kirks: “Take me to The Cloud!”, so they can look a some crappy family photos stored there. Google has been all about The Cloud for a while now---GMail stores all your precious emails there, and there’s all sorts of business and other applications that you can use remotely, without installing big program files to your computer, without worrying about updates or storage or some virus wiping the whole thing out. A slew of laptops are coming out that use Google’s Chrome operating system, which apparently pushes an awful lot of we’re used to doing on and in our computers into The Cloud. Amazon and Google (and soon Apple) have brand new cloud-based music storage services, where you can upload music from your hard drive and then listen to your music on whatever device wherever you are. And one day, one day soon, the major record labels are going to break down and allow true and affordable subscription streaming music services where everything ever released will be available for your listening pleasure at the push of a button. From The Celestial Jukebox, a/k/a The Cloud. Oh yeah, and then there’s Netflix. And that silly little thing called Facebook. The future looks cloudy.

For some of us, going to The Cloud involves a leap of faith, and one we’re not quite ready to make. I like the fact that all my e-mails, all my 52 days of music, all my pictures and my work files are right here on my lap and in that little black box on the corner of my desk. Call me old-fashioned, but there they are, right in front of me, where I can look at them. Sort of. What if everything was in The Cloud? Where, exactly, is that? Up? On some server where? In this country? Guarded by whom? And it got there how?

Say I go all-in with The Cloud. It’s only as good as is the availability of broadband wifi. I live in the Berkshires, where, despite a lot of talk about universal broadband-this and fiber-that, the vast majority of the area has no broadband. None! Hell, even the cell-phone coverage sucks out here! And while my cable-broadband service has been increasingly reliable, it does go down, and when it does I’d be completely out of business. And traveling? Fuhgettaboutit. Trains, airplanes, hotels, strange cities? The availability and quality of internet access while traveling is a crap shoot, which makes The Cloud, for now, a bad bet, especially when the alternative is having it all on my lap, all the time. Backed up. Right here.

And recent news doesn’t make me think this is gonna change anytime soon. A few days after Amazon announced its cloud-based music storage thingee (which, frankly, I just don’t get) Amazon’s entire cloud infrastructure went down for days, taking with it various social networking applications like Foursquare and lots of online retailers and lots and lots of frustrated people. Oops. Microsoft’s Cloud went down numerous times just last week, leaving all sorts of businesses twiddling their thumbs. Like a power outage. But worse.

Perhaps the most alarming event was the virtual destruction-by-hacking of SONY’s massive PlayStation network, which was accompanied by the compromising of the personal data of its 79 million subscribers. (As an aside, seems to me that if some hackers were looking for high-value personal info they wouldn’t be seeking data on what must be primarily male couch potatoes whose idea of a great night is playing Grand Theft Auto for six hours. But perhaps I’m missing something.) The system has been out for weeks and still is not right. Weeks.

Here we have three of the main behemothian mondo-gods of the internet, and they can’t keep their clouds together? Really? And I’m supposed to feel like rushing headlong to trust them (or anybody else) with my modest, but to me, profoundly important collection of stuff? Why, exactly, would I do that? For piece of mind? For convenience? To save money? I don’t think so. As to the economics part, I see where two terabytes of memory in a little book-sized device is ducking under the $100 mark. That’s, like, nothing.

Apparently much of the business world is committed to taking everything to The Cloud, and soon—I suppose at a certain level, many large networked businesses have been there for a while now anyway, and it’s just a matter of who’s running it and how well. But for you and me?

I’m thinking this is one these columns that I’ll look back at and say “geez, what a close-minded ignoramus I was.” I feel like I’m pushing against the tide. Many of you reading this know more about this stuff than me. Tell me what I’m not getting.


At 9:08 PM, Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

I use the Amazon cloud to download music I don't care if the thing disappears, i.e., the whole Lady Gaga album for 99 cents.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Susan said...

You raise some very important points, ones that I think many people are ignoring in their eager rush to embrace "The Cloud." The Cloud isn't really some place up in the sky; it is made up of hardware and software that is only as good as those maintaining it.

I agree with Roger - the Cloud is great as a backup or for things you don't really care about if you lose. It shouldn't be the only place you keep things, at least for now, when it is in the infant stage.

I am sharing your post with a bunch of other librarians that are in an online course on new technologies.


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