Not quite the ninth cloud

Not quite the ninth cloud

Everyone is hopping on to the cloud. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple are all betting on solutions that, in some form or the other, will use cloud computing architecture to deliver services to Internet users. Their logic is sound, but is the cloud ready?

Essentially the idea behind cloud computing is to delegate, through networks, computing requirements to a massive “cloud" of servers and hardware. Because access to this cloud is ubiquitous, users don’t need to use computers that have sophisticated hardware or software. An online email account is perhaps the easiest cloud service to use and understand.

Today cloud computing is much more sophisticated than just hosting emails or blogs. New services from Google and Amazon allow users to host their music on the cloud and then stream it on their computers and phones whenever they want to. Apple is rumoured to be working on a massive new cloud-based music service of their own. Microsoft has recently ramped up enterprise and consumers products based on cloud computing, including an online version of its popular Office suite of products.

Combined with cheap, fast broadband access, it looks like a no-brainer for individuals and organizations. Why bother buying and maintaining your own infrastructure, when you can invest in a browser and let the cloud do the rest?

Unfortunately the cloud has been running into a few hiccups of late. In April Amazon suffered a massive cloud outage that knocked several small and large users off the grid. In February thousands of Gmail accounts —perhaps as many as 150,000—were deleted by a mysterious bug in Google’s servers. And last week Google’s Blogger service was down for almost 24 hours.

While in most cases the outages were quickly rectified, these events do tarnish the cloud’s reputation. The server farms that power the cloud are supposed to be built for scale and with redundancies. Asking users to maintain an off-line back-up, “just in case"—and there are users who cannot afford even a single outage—is self-defeating.

The cloud is a beautiful concept. In many ways it is the culmination of years of Internet, hardware and software development. But it is in danger of scaring away everyone but the early adopters.

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