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June 29, 2011

"The Cloud"

It's fashionable these days to say that something's "in the cloud." The cloud is in. Everyone's moving stuff to the cloud.

Which is really annoying.

"The Cloud," of course, isn't a cloud at all. In fact, it couldn't be farther from a cloud. It's the same old server farms somewhere in a warehouse. That's all. So why the sudden fixation with "the cloud"? Probably because centralized storage and applications can be huge business and because it presents an opportunity to regain control over users and their data, control that has largely been lost ever since the PC revolution took it away from centralized mainframes in the 1980s.

But isn't it really great not to have to worry about where stuff is stored? And that it'll all be there for you when you need it, wherever that may be? In theory, yes. In practice, not so much. Because it may, or may not be there.

I learned that lesson yet again when my Amazon account somehow got compromised a little while ago. For all practical purposes, Amazon is in "the cloud" as far as their customers are concerned. Customer data is there, wish lists, old transactions, and all the archived Kindle books. So when Amazon suddenly didn't accept my password anymore I tried to reset it three times, exhausting in the process the passwords I can easily remember.

A call to Amazon yielded that the account had indeed been compromised, and I was guided through setting it up again. I wasn't told how and why the hacking might have happened, and moving my data was a manual process that had to be done by Amazon. But even Amazon, stunningly, was unable to move my Kindle book library. Instead, they said they'd send me a gift card so that I could purchase the books again. The card eventually arrived.

Then I found that my Amazon affiliates account was also linked to my main Amazon account, and also no longer worked. Amazon once again changed my password and gave me instructions on how to regain access.

Bottom line: if even Amazon (or Sony or the government, for that matter) cannot guarantee that your data is safe, or explain what happened when it's compromised, why should I trust "the cloud"? Companies come and go, and some who are now presenting "cloud" services will undoubtedly soon be gone. Others will, in the software industry's inimitable fashion, act as if their service was the only one that matters and make users jump through hoops. And it'll all add to the rapidly growing number of logins and setups and passwords that we are pretty much forced to entrust our lives and financials with.

While experiences like what happened to my Amazon account are simply annoying and worrysome, what happens if and when it'll all come crashing down? Or if you wake up one day with amnesia, or the cheat sheet with all your access data is lost. The cloud -- poof! -- will be gone, and with it all of our data. That alone is a darn good argument for local storage and backups. Having one's head in the cloud will almost inevitably turn out to be a bad thing.

Posted by conradb212 at June 29, 2011 06:50 PM