Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Cloudy With A Hint Of Rain

Believe it or not, this post has sat in my drafts for a very long time indeed (if Blogger is to be trusted almost two months to a day).

So, what happened for me to drag it out into the fresh air, give it a good kneading, and let it loose on an unsuspecting readership (of two)?

Well, as it happens it was this particular piece, ruminating over yet more rumours about Apple iPhone Nano.

Am I then going to go on about yet another potential iDevice? No, not really. What I want to talk about is the notion of cloud storage replacing every other kind a person may want. In short - ain't gonna happen. Still, you may want to read on and see why...

Let's begin with the premise of the rumour mentioned above: to make possible an iPhone Nano, one that can be sold for less than $200, Apple allegedly needs to build it with no flash storage whatsoever. To have a device like that do anything useful, or at least anything iJunkies are used to doing, which mostly seem to be listening to music and watching porn really nice and clean photos and videos, sa(i)d content needs to come from somewhere. Currently, it mostly comes from the device itself - especially the music, but also quite probably the porn music videos, too. If there's no storage to speak of on the device itself, the content needs to come via some sort of wireless network, 3G or WiFi - it doesn't really matter. But then, it still needs to be stored somewhere, and that somewhere is a "cloud" - or in Apple's case its leaves-a-lot-to-be-desired MobileMe service. Which, I guess, is all well and good.

What is not well and good, however, is the persistent myth that such services can totally replace all the storage a person may want or need. The notion that all our devices should become "thin" and get all their content from the "cloud". And it's not just Apple (or iJunkies, at least) that are lusting such future. Oh no. There's Google with its Chrome OS, and I'm sure Microsoft has something similar in mind, if not already on offer.

I'm sorry guys, I'm going to have to rain on your already cloudy parade...

And it's not just because the Cloud is not yet mature enough and ready for prime time (it isn't). It also isn't because we are just too far away still from truly ubiquitous network coverage (any network coverage). No, it's not the inadequate speeds either, and nor is it the costs which are currently ridiculous if I am to be frank. On all these, and all those I have failed to mention, I am sure we will get there in the end. Eventually. Sometime. At least two generations hence none of these will be a problem.

So, you must ask, what is the problem then?

It's obvious, if you really think about it. Remember, many will want you to commit all your data to the cloud. That means ALL your data. Not just the songs and films you bought. Oh no, they want also the photos and videos YOU made (and are thus irreplaceable), and also all the documents (stories, whatever) you typed in yourself - also irreplaceable. Would you really allow anyone to have sole responsibility for your own original content - the truly irreplaceable things (your baby will never again make her first steps, after all)? Surely you would want to hedge your bets and have a copy that you keep somewhere you can actually put your hands on it whenever you feel like it, instead of having to make sure you have a network connection and that your cloud provider is still in business.

Yes, the cloud is great for backup and synchronisation. Some of these are even very cheap and very convenient and capable already (e.g. Flickr for your photos, and Dropbox for your other files). Use them by all means. I do. They work great. But do I trust them with my originals as one poor bugger did (almost) to his detriment? Of course not! I've all my (digital) valuables in multiple backup copies on multiple computers and portable hard drives. They are also in the cloud, make no mistake there. But they're there so I can conveniently access and synchronise them. The poor bugger mentioned earlier may have (almost) lost 4,000 photos. I have more than ten times as much. Heck, I even make a local backup copy of this blog!

So, to all those with their heads in the clouds, digital and otherwise: think again, and think carefully. The cloud does have its uses, but is not be all and end all. Not by a long stretch. Finally, I know I have written elatedly about the cloud before, but believe me it was never with losing the sight of the arguments above.