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Cloud Computing will Fail without the Ability to Backup Data Locally

The last two years have seen an explosion growth of yet another tech buzzword- “cloud computing“. While many naive readers might think that the “cloud” is a new idea, it is in fact the original form of multi-user computing.

You see.. in the era before I and many of you were born, computers were multi-million dollars and multi-ton machines used by a few brave and nerdy souls. The high cost of those machines made individual ownership, even by many corporations, a bit dear. Consequently many of the mainframe systems were shared by users who accused it through dumb or very basic terminals. There is a reason that operating systems based on Unix are light years ahead of Windows and Macs when it comes to handling multiple users and their processes.

While the dumb terminal connected to a very capable multi-user machine has certain advantages (power, capacity etc) it has a major flaw which was obvious to people even in that era. There is always the possibility of one mistake or misstep taking out every user’s data and access to computing. You can increase system up-time and alleviate the risk of catastrophic failure through clever, but expensive, engineering (IBM Z Series) and redundancies. However the fixes are expensive and you are still subject to the whims of the power-hungry scumbag who owns the system.

The PC “revolution” solved this by creating reasonably cheap personal computers with decent data storage and backup ability. I personally suspect that the very fact that you owned your PC and its accessories was a major factor behind the success of the PC over cheaper dumb terminals.

Fast forward to an era that began with Gmail and ubiquitous high-speed internet, when it once again become much cheaper and worthwhile to store your data and perform computations in a large cluster of remote computers. Today services from Flickr, Tumblr, DropBox, FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube to various Amazon “Clouds” are an integral part of our life- yet their old vulnerability never went away.

If anything those old vulnerabilities have been amplified by the current economic and legal environment. You see.. a cloud built of IBM Z class servers with multi-site backup would be pretty close to indestructible- but also really expensive. Most clouds being built today are increasingly made up of customized servers designed and run with an eye on cost-cutting. Cue Taleb’s Black Swan.. Also companies can deny and throw you of their “clouds” without any real possibility of legal redress

This fragility comes at precisely the same time that “cloud” based services from Gmail to FaceBook and DropBox are becoming an important part of people’s lives. They are now closer to utilities than luxuries and indulgences. However even this would not be a major problem if people could easily mirror the data and applications in these “clouds”. You can, for example, easily backup all of your Gmail data on your local hard-drives (main and backup) at pretty much every login, if you choose to.

But what about services which you cannot mirror, host easily or which have DRM? What happens when the “cloud” dies or you lose access to it?

It is likely that we will experience a series of large outages or serious compromise of some important “cloud” based service in the near future. I am making this prediction based not on my deep understanding of technology but of human stupidity, ego and legalistic bullshit. Only after most people experience the joys of trusting “cloud” computing that we might start to develop a better way to storing and accessing data- one in which both your personal computers and the “clouds” effortlessly mirror each others data and functionality as required.


  1. Mr Stricter
    October 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. Cloud computing is expensive and fiddly and in a world where infrastructure and expertise will be waning, its a bad call.

    We need robust, redundant technologies, not ether-ware.

  2. October 18, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I still buy CD’s, don’t like iTunes at all–it’s not “in the cloud” but on your hard drive. Still, with a CD, you can burn a copy to play in your vehicle, put one on your music player etc….

    Some people say the future of video games is in the cloud. Maybe not….

    Anyways, redundancy is good. Also, sometimes the internet does go down, what then?

  3. Michel
    October 18, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    We need to exterminate the phrase “tech buzzword.” It continues to lose credibility like… heh.

  4. October 19, 2011 at 7:47 am

    mac is unix

    A flavor of UNIX.

  5. October 19, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Thomas, how do you get a mac OS to operate on a PC?

    VMware (http://www.vmware.com/)

  6. AC
    October 19, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Not cynical enough; not enough brain-dead nihilism

  7. October 19, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Can we get back to the good ‘ol usual hatred of old white men and criticism of Indians and East Asians?

    • Mr Stricter
      October 19, 2011 at 11:30 am

      I rather enjoy AD’s tech posts. A lot of food for thought.

      Anyway to satisfy AC in lieu of our host

      As far as hatred of rich old white men (I doubt AD cares about some guy eeking out a living on a small SS check somewhere) its just good sense. Those arseholes are in fact responsible for vast tracts of preventable human suffering. The rich for the most part these days are parasites and while everyone has some parasite load and can even benefit from a tiny amount just like in biology its got to the point where the parasites are killing the host. If they get taken down hard, they brought it on themselves.

      The word Hubris is supposed to apply to matters of the Gods but it fits here. Mess with the Bull, get the horns.

      • AC
        October 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm

        Well done! Excellent entry in this entirely predictable genre ­čÖé

  8. October 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    We all know that cloud computing is best suited for the small business group and i think it is best suited in case of managing less data but if the data is too large then it may become difficult to manage it and keeping a backup is like holding a big giant in a small cage

  9. hans
    October 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    A blog by an Indian WITHOUT computer stuff?

    Kidding aside, you missed the main point of “the cloud”.
    Your data belongs to the cloud service provider, no matter what tale they spin pretending to the contrary.

    Cloud computing is like using a credit card to pay for gas, or smokes, or groceries.
    A good sign of how much control the masses of “useless eaters” are allowing.

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