Computing in the Clouds

Couple of things have got me thinking about cloud computing.  First the announcement that Microsoft 2010 will include online versions of Word, Excel etc.  This is obviously intended to compete with Google Docs (it would seem Microsoft are belatedly attempting to up their game what with cloud-based services and their recent deal with Yahoo!), and is another step towards a future where a hard drive is no longer required.  Which brings me to the second reason I have been mulling this one over recently.

I have recently been in the unfortunate situation of having my desktop computer die before my very eyes.  A deeply depressing and stressful moment.  What made this all the more stressful was that that, despite promising myself to maintain a rigorous back-up routine, I had failed to back-up data for several months.  Of course, this meant I lost loads of photos of our daughter, documents for my course and lots of other bits and bobs that would make my life meaningless without their existence (I exaggerate very slightly).  Anyway, as a result of this catastrophe, I began considering the benefits of using Google Docs for my assignments and pdf files.  It certainly made quite a difference as I could access my documents at home without needing to carry round a USB stick.  However, whilst there are a number of benefits (storage space, access from any computer etc), there are some things that are a concern.

When storing documents online, who do they really belong to? Are they your property, or the property of the company that is storing them?  We’ve seen numerous attempts by some networking sites to claim personal data as their own, what would stop them from doing the same with your documents? Not a lot I guess.  The other problem that springs to mind is what happens if the company storing your documents closes down?  Although this is pretty unlikely with Google or Microsoft, it is still a concern. What happens to your documents then?  Are they lost forever?  Also, as we have recently seen with the Kindle/Orwell debacle, there is an issue with privacy and security.  What is to stop an organisation accessing your online data and removing it as it deems fit?  What if it decides that the material you store is inappropriate and removes it from their servers?  This would be a disturbing move, essentially putting your data in the hands of a corporation.  At present I am torn between the immense benefits cloud computing would provide and concerns about privacy.  It will be interesting to see how these concerns are addressed (if at all) in the move towards computing in the clouds.

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