Open...and Shut For all its promise, cloud computing has taken on a murky hue over the past few months. Most recently Amazon's EC2 and Sony's Playstation Network (PSN) were both brought down through human error and malevolence, respectively, leaving developers and consumers to wonder if cloud computing is all it's cracked up to be. Yet no matter how problematic cloud security and resilience may be, there's arguably no going back to the good old days.
Remember those days? You know, back when it wasn't Amazon's fault when your application went down, but rather your own? Instead of being able to conveniently blame Amazon's incompetence you had to acknowledge your own.
Frankly, most of us are more routinely incompetent than Amazon, so that those "good old days" were fraught with even more risk of downtime and security breaches.
But maybe it is worse, all the same. After all, cloud computing tends to centralize our data, whether it be stored in Salesforce.com's data centers or Google's, and thereby makes for a mouthwatering target for hackers. As The Guardian's John Harris puts it: "Inevitably, hacking into stuff stored in the cloud is a global pastime, with its own grim star system."
This abdication of control of one's personal data has caused free software's patron saint Richard Stallman to dub cloud computing "worse than stupidity." But there might not be any real alternative.
Sure, there's the option of a private web manager articulated by Eben Moglen. Or there's there more promising Locker Project that Singly is building, which allows users to carry their data with them in a virtual lockbox and make it available how and when they want to do so.
But these efforts don't address the central reason we're so willingly shoveling data into the cloud: it's easy, it's cheap, and the downsides are outweighed by the upsides. At least, so far.
No matter how much we may not like the idea of being dependent on someone else's infrastructure, the reality is that it has always been thus. Today it's Amazon's EC2. Yesterday it was Microsoft's Windows. You think a cloud outage is bad? Imagine setting up shop on a platform perpetually prone to security vulnerabilities.
The upside to building on someone else's popular platform outweighs pretty much any risk of doing so. Think about it. The risk of building on another's platform scales with the popularity of that platform: the more popular, the likelier it becomes as a security target.
If you go it alone, you have virtually no risk of the breach...or of having anyone use your service.
And, as mentioned, you're almost certainly not going to do as good a job at maintaining uptime as Google, Amazon or other cloud providers as a number of experts suggest.
No, cloud computing isn't a panacea or savior. It's just a convenient way to do business. In fact, it's convenient enough that most consumers and enterprises are going to overlook its failings and continue to invest in it. ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.