Saving some of your data to a cloud storage system like SkyDrive, Google Drive, and DropBox is a good way to have that data easily available from multiple systems. Free cloud storage that does not charge you any money to make a backup of your data is an awesome and generous service. Yet, there are risks that we do well to consider. Those risks determine what you store on the cloud and when you should or should not use the cloud as a replacement for your hard drive. This is a continuation of my other post, Use The Cloud But Keep A Local Copy, in which I talk more briefly about a real world scenario involving the cloud.
The Cloud Can Replace Your Hard Drive
I like Google ChromeBook and I like the concept of the device in theory. In practice, I cannot see relying on a device that requires that you have an Internet connection to get good use out of it. It does seem like most of us who use computers in the home are on the Internet more than anything else. We are online surfing the net; Tweeting; checking email, going to news and entertainment website; checking bank accounts; and checking out of a shopping cart. What do we really need to store on our hard drives?
If you use SkyDrive, Google Drive, DropBox or any of the other 10 or 20 cloud storage solutions, you could literally store all your files on them. Storing your files in this way can allow you to access your files from any computer you are on. The centralized nature of cloud technology with one single web address (such as cloud.google.com/storage), but multiple computers behind the scenes, allows you to backup the files without much effort. Since you can run a computer without a hard drive and this means as long as you have an Internet connection, you can upload and access files to and from the cloud.
The Vision of The Cloud is Powerful
The possibilities for centralized cloud storage to replace the hard drive is covered in an article about how the cloud could replace the hard drive. It is an excellent article and is completely accurate as far as the technical possibilities for using the cloud as a replacement for the hard drive. The points that are made are compelling, seem futuristic and would streamline how computer programs work with information. It is a good vision but the good intentions of cloud technology to streamline data processing do not consider or provide a better guarantee of security or reliability.
The Benefits of the Cloud
When your data is in the cloud and your computer crashes, the cloud still has your data. Once you get another computer or access a friend’s computer or any other computer (remember smart phones, tablets, laptops are all considered computers), you just sign-on to the cloud and access your data. Email may limit your attachments but cloud storage will allow you to share large and really large files. Sharing a file between two or more people is possible in the cloud when you don’t want to send attachments through email back and forth. The cloud lets you check out a file, change it, and check it back into one spot on the cloud which saves bandwidth and keeps things organized.
The cloud can streamline software development. It can allow departments in a company to link data into computer systems more easily and across company divisions. Companies can move data from partner and customer systems more easily and streamline data transfers and updates. Organizations whether government, non-profit, community, or commercial industry can use the cloud to great effect when everything is working properly.
Cloud providers can provide a level of security expertise that outstrips local IT departments. The amount of storage, capacity, and raw processing power that a high volume cloud provider can give you is going to be substantially better than companies and organizations that are not in the IT business. The networking equipment and quantity of support technicians to work on cloud infrastructure is substantially larger and more dense at a cloud provider than in a general IT department.
People in a home setting using tablets, smart phones, and thin and light laptops can simplify the way they use computers. Forget about how much storage your phone has or even spending more money on a device with more space on it, the cloud can take care of that, bringing down the cost of the devices. You never again have to worry about losing information because it is on the cloud and available from all your devices. The effort and money you might spend trying to keep your data secure and backed up is no longer something you have to worry about. The cloud will take care of what you need.
What is Not Good About the Cloud
All the benefits of the cloud is true, but not 100% true. When the cloud breaks down, the damage can be much worse than the benefits. Your Internet connection could be down for hours or days. While your Internet should not go down due to the massive engineering effort that has gone into the service in your area, it can happen and has happened to others. Internet services such as 30MBps for second wired or 4G or 5G wireless can fail either in the home or at the central stations. When that happens, you do not have access to your cloud data and while your phone might still make a call, your access to important information or social contacts is blocked.
If you are a business, your sales, customer services, and order or service fulfillment ability is either slowed down or undermined enough to lose you money you may never see again. Whether you are a business or a someone using the cloud at home, there is the possibility that a security expert working to get your data knows more about the existence of the cloud provider than they do your computer. Then, they decide to break through the security of the cloud provider, and when they succeed, they access your files and the files of others. Depending on what is in your files, you could find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.
Then of course there is basic performance and capabilities. The cloud is faster than your computer in some ways, but in other ways, the cloud is slower. It takes time to push data a thousand miles from a data center to your computer. Using the cloud as your in and out point for data will be far slower than if that data was sitting right on your computer. Computers should process data in a fast and efficient way depending on the information being processed and computer can meet that standard better with local storage than they can when data is moving over the Internet.
Ultra HD 4K is not a good format for the cloud. Too much data in Ultra HD 4K that will tie up network connections and could make using the cloud much more difficult in the future than today. Admittedly this all will change and a future Internet standard or change in bandwidth will push Ultra HD and whatever comes after. However, physical formats accessed locally will have far more detail and information in terms of video than what the present Internet can offer. Local video through Blu-ray or the next thing after Blu-ray will provide the best visual resolution for entertainment and sophisticated information display than network streaming from the cloud. Related to video service and the disparity between what cloud video can offer versus the high density visual technology on local equipment, does video subscription or paid subscription services provide good value? Is it worthwhile to fund a video library for the same title over again each time a format changes? Will the subscription payments give you the kind of reliability, dependability, and smoothness and richness of video you can gain from a disk or local hard drive sent to a high definition screen that can fully show the video the way it was intended?
The Worst That Could Happen
When you store medical, financial, and legal records as well as general communications in the cloud, you incur a huge risk that can make the ease of the cloud seem less worth the use. Make no mistake, I think the cloud is useful and I support and endorse the concept of the cloud, but in a limited way.
The cloud should not be the all encompassing approach for systems today or in the future.
Medical records can be acquired by other interested parties that can damage your insurance rating; or if certain aspects become public, change people’s perception (rightly or wrongly) of you. Medical records can be used to damage your social standing or ability to facilitate how you are received by society. The mishandling of medical records in the cloud can lead to a range of undesirable outcomes.
Financial records in the cloud that are accessed in a breach of the cloud provider can undermine your business or personal life or both. Anonymous financial data in the cloud is less of a concern. Information correlated explicitly to individuals or can be interrogated in such a way as to identify relevant individuals may pose risks to persons that otherwise would not exist.
What is said between people in email and instant message communications may be generally considered private. High officials have had their careers destroyed through cloud based exposure. The worst that could happen is the same thing occurs at a deeper level to destroy communities and organizations at an increased pace as more of us become more at ease communicating through the cloud. That does not mean that the cloud should be abandoned but only that we should use it carefully and with great consideration.
Different Strengths of Local Systems
That which is nearest to you will generally run best in terms of speed, reliability, and changeability. How important those 3 things are to you will determine how much you use the cloud or take advantage of a local system, storage, and processing to do things and make things happen.
Speed is generally better for certain things when those things happen on a local computer system. Ultra HD 4K files will process better, play better, and show video output better on a 50 inch HDMI plasma screen when running from a local system. The playback will be smoother, the video will run uninterrupted, and with much greater detail. Video games on the cloud are convenient when the network is available, but video games and business simulations will be far better on a local system.
Most spreadsheets, documents, and databases will load and push faster on internal systems than in the cloud. Some kinds of data processing in the cloud can run better, such as massive cloud databases, but network transmission speeds or faltering connections can undo any gains here making local processing a better option. A cloud provider may have better equipment, but your own local systems, depending on the scale of your operations, may work better as you can better optimize for your particular situation.
Reliability will take several forms. The network can be unreliable when you least expect it and when you can least afford it. Many times you do need the network, but when you can work locally, you have greater flexibility. Your local computer environment is still running while you wait for the network. When the network is unavailable or so slow as to be less useful, having a full local environment is invaluable. The flexibility of taking local files, changing them, printing them if necessary, faxing or mailing information or being able to use the phone or huddle around a computer to talk about information is indispensable when the network connection is not really workable.
Then there is security. Security isn’t as well established on local systems as it should be, but it will still out pace the cloud. Information is generally more at risk when it is traveling over a network than when it is residing dormant on a local hard drive or other storage technology. How secure you want to be in terms of data and privacy will determine if the cloud works for you or if you need the control of a local system to better manage what information you disclose.
Not the End of the Hard Drive
Hard drives (HDD), Solid state drive (SSD), high density crystals (holographic or HDSS) or whatever is the main storage for a computer is vital to concept of computers. Even if computer evolved from silicon to quantum to biological, local storage would remain a significant advantage for processing information whether that information is in electromagnetic, atomic, or molecular form.
A brilliant individual important in the development of computers by the name of Alan Turing described the concept of the infinite tape regarding computers. Cloud is one way to do that, but other considerations make complete local storage fully relevant into the future. Computer software today is rather timid in terms of really using the computer to provide far greater value to people. That is less a failure of computer design than it is a condition of where things are in industry and incentive, resource, or experience necessary to innovate. Consolidation into the cloud would only worsen such conditions.
Large capacity, high speed, secure local storage serves us well paired with local computer processing. Whereas the end of the hard drive (or SSD and possible descendant local technology) will certainly speed up the transition of computer from devices that provide many abilities into one that is an appliance on the level of a TV.
The Value of Local Hard Drives and Fully Equipped Computers
First, all display happens on a local system. The video graphics chips that make colors, pictures, animations, and text possible on a screen exist on the local machine. The better these chips and the display monitor the better the visual output and people generally like quality images and text. A powerful desktop computer with a high-end graphics card will provide an individual with the highest visual output possible followed by a high-end laptop. A large capacity hard drive can be used to store graphics with finer detail and richer visuals and sound than can be streamed over the Internet.
When you run computer programs such as iTunes, AutoCAD, PhotoShop, Microsoft Office, or Ubuntu, Blender, and Liferea, you are presented with much better information about what these programs are doing in real-time than equivalent web applications running in the cloud. Web applications in the cloud have much greater capacity (thousands of computers compared to your one) but local applications or Apps are more responsive generally and show more detail and allow you to use features with greater detail than what you get from pure cloud systems.
The ability to really focus on a process or activity using just local system resources without the interruption or slowness of the network or Internet is a benefit of local systems. There is no comparison. You can write several blog posts in LibreOffice like I am doing now, tweak them, shape them, and organize them rapidly and then connect to the network later on and upload all posts in 1 go instead of wading through network back and forth waiting to see if the submit button click resulted in your current draft being captured. You can focus for a sustained period of time at high productivity whether it is modeling in SolidWorks or LibreCAD or sifting through financial analysis in Excel or writing the right message for a personal email or eventual job application submitted on the Web.
Conditions around you change and the ability to save your work quickly to the hard drive, close the laptop lid or shutdown the device and go is generally unimpeded at the local system level. Involve the cloud and your ability to respond in such a way can diminish dramatically. Computers with hard drives or other advanced local storage provides you with tremendous flexibility in terms of your ability to use the machines in many different ways versus the cloud and the deficits that exist in that environment.
Cloud is Good, Local Systems are Better
The cloud is a good offering and should not be discounted. When a small business operates in a legitimate way, I generally recommend Google Apps as that can greatly streamline things for that business. However, that does not mean that businesses or individuals should be fully invested in the cloud in terms of what makes sense from a security, reliability, performance or public relations standpoint.
Use the cloud where it makes sense, but maintain your option to run as much or everything you want to run locally. The ability to fall-back to or primarily use local processing to a maximum level always keeps open your ability to do more the way that makes sense to you. Even if doing more means using more advanced language tools to better craft messages at 140 characters or, in the case of this blog, 2,881 words.