Be careful how much you keep your head in the clouds

Cloud computing is a term we have been hearing a great deal about over the last several years.  With the increase in Information Technology (IT) demands coming from across all industries, cloud computing is a dynamically scaleable and virtualized resource that enables data storage – software, information, etc., on shared servers with on-demand access.  The term “cloud” is a metaphor for the Internet, and cloud computing has come about as a result of needing to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without the heavy burdens of investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software.  In short, it has become an economically and environmentally viable solution for the continued growth of IT, in a shared, real-time environment.

Cloud computing provides us with a myriad of opportunities and as technology continues to evolves so rapidly we see this touching every aspect of our lives from financial transactions, health care, traffic control, power grid, water and energy, we see it in food, entertainment and retail, the list is endless.  Up until recently the conversation around cloud computing was driven by the IT industry and corporations such as IBM, Sun and, it wasn’t a conversation that the average person was engaged in.  All that has is quickly changing as Software as a Service (SaaS) –that is single applications accessed through a browser and available to thousands of people – has become widely embraced. 

The intention with SaaS is there are no upfront costs to the consumer for servers or software licenses and with just one app to maintain, costs are minimal on the provider side.   Web 2.0 “desk-top” applications like Google Apps or the ever popular  are some examples. reported that in 2008, there were over 15 million users of Google Apps. A report by explains how iTunes will now be offering a subscription service to users to access their own iTunes library – in other words for a monthly fee you will have unlimited streaming of content. This undertaking is being met with mixed reviews as even though you own the content you paid for, you will now be paying to access it vis a vis a monthly storage fee.

With new devices hitting the market such as smartphones, Netbooks and iPads, storage capacity is limited and we are opting to store and retrieve more of our data from the cloud so we can have cool new portable devices whose battery life is extended prolonging our connected experience in such a mobile world.  For those of us who have experienced hard drive crashes and data was irretrievable we are even more prone to look for cloud computing solutions.  On the other hand, paying to store our content aside, issues of privacy of information have also entered the discussion.  The Internet has the uncanny ability to remember EVERYTHING.  As we know, photos, Facebook status updates, Twitter posts, etc., are stored in the digital cloud.  In 2009, the World Privacy Forum released a report stating that as information stored locally on a computer could also be stored in the cloud, such as emails, word processing documents, videos, health records, financial information, sales forecasts, appointment calendars, etc, cloud computing has significant implications for the privacy of personal information as well for the confidentiality of business and government information.  In other words, as we take advantage of all sorts of Internet-based services we also leave ourselves vulnerable to Orwellian subterfuge. 

The explosion of social networking technologies, the proliferation of devices, the accessibility to overwhelming amounts of content and our ability to interact with our content, continues to put a new face on cloud computing. So although cloud computing addresses what to do with the masses amount of information data and our desire to have access to it all, we need to be careful not to keep our head in the clouds and forget that we also need to ensure the privacy, security and overall internet economics of our golden information.