Aristillus

A large crater to dump my thoughts

It’s getting cloudy now

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Cloud computing is all the rage these days. It is, in short, computing as a service instead of as a product. This has serious advantages but also has a negative side that may not immediately be obvious.

The concept is pretty simple; somebody keeps some physical computers up and running and provides computing time on those computers to others, rather than everybody buying their own hardware. Sometimes this service is provided by a different part of the same company or government (a private cloud) and sometimes it is sold as a service (a public cloud, like Amazon EC2).

From the perspective of deployment and resource management, the cloud is a great idea. It’s easy to go from nowhere to having a couple of hundred machines running. No need to buy more hardware, fiddle with install CD’s, or worry about replacing broken parts. Everything can be done without having to leave your desk. And it’s possible to scale an application as demand requires; adding a few more servers can be done in less than a minute, and getting rid of them is probably just as fast. It’s easier to get redundancy. Quick repurposing of machines when demand requires it. Anyway, great stuff: the engineer in me is thrilled.

But it’s not all rosy. Cloud computing is just a technology, and technology isn’t inherently good or bad – it’s how you use it. There are plenty of valid use cases for the cloud, but it also enables some worrying behavior.

For starters, it makes it possible for companies and governments to outsource the physical machines and lower software layers they run their applications on. This means that (private) user data gets shipped around to not just one external party – the one running the application – but also to the cloud provider or providers that are providing the hardware it runs on. Their security or downtime can affect a large number of customers (and their customers). The cloud providers may be in a different jurisdiction (or often, multiple jurisdictions) with different legal systems, opening their customers up to legal issues regarding data retention or foreign government surveillance. And while having data spread across different companies and different continents was not impossible before the cloud, it certainly has become a lot easier and more common.

Handing over control over my personal data to so many companies (and governments) makes me uncomfortable, but it’s so darn convenient. Is there no way we can have the best of both worlds, some sort of hybrid model?

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Written by aristillus

November 12, 2012 at 10:51

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

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