April 24, 2012

Living the CloudLife: Cloud Computing 101

by with 5 comments

Ever wonder just how far into the clouds you and your data are traveling? You are likely using multiple cloud-based services (including SpiderOak, we hope). Google offers software as a free online service to billions of users across the globe. The Internet giant hosts a set of online productivity tools and applications that live in the cloud such as email (Gmail), word processing (Google Docs), calendars (Google Calendar), photo sharing (Picassa), and website creation tools. And whereas you may not think of those services in ‘cloud’ terms, that is exactly what they are. So when someone asks you to define cloud computing, it may seem difficult at first to explain. Try asking that question to 5 of your friends and you’ll probably get five different answers.

There are many ideas of the ‘cloud’. Often wrapped in marketing lingo, definitions fly all over the net. And while they don’t clearly define cloud computing and what makes it different, they sure make it sound good. In essence, cloud computing means having every piece of data available via the Internet anytime you need it. Wikipedia defines it as “the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet).”

Do you (or can you) remember when there wasn’t a cloud? Before the cloud emerged, there was software-as-a-service computing. Instead of data pipes and routers and servers, the cloud brings full fledged services. The underlying hardware and software of networking remains of course but there are now higher level service capabilities available to build applications.

Every day new start-ups present options for cloud computing. If we follow these trends, the computer merely becomes a gateway into the cloud – removing the need for onboard storage and freeing consumers to leap from one device to another depending on their requirements.

The days of downloading and installing memory-hogging applications on their device will be gone and replaced a powerful Internet browser capable of accessing and computing. However, we are not quite there yet as there are many drawbacks to this system still. The first is accessibility as we still don’t live in a fully connected world where the Internet is accessible everywhere. Further, there are critical security and privacy concerns and who ultimately has access to what data (an issue we worked hard to solve at SpiderOak with our ‘zero-knowledge’ privacy).

The idea of handing over critical data to a 3rd party company still worries many people – and with good reason. Ultimately, users adopt a hybrid approach where some data lives in the cloud and runs off of cloud applications while other more valuable data stays firmly on their machine.

As you are aware, we at SpiderOak are very passionate about privacy and security. In fact, the founders – Ethan and Alan – created SpiderOak to dis-spell the myth that just because data is online doesn’t mean that it cannot be completely private. We believe, as hope more and more companies will agree, it is in the users best interest to employ the most advanced techniques around protecting user data. This will only grow in importance as the cloud becomes more ubiquitous.

Another somewhat lesser known complaint about the ‘cloud’ relates to outages. In the ‘cloud’ world, we have come to expect that data should always be available. And when it is not we become very very impatient and frustrated. For example, imagine not being able to access email or an important business document. All companies suffer from outages as nothing can be perfect all the time (including us humans). Amazon, generally considered the gold standard, had devastating downtime last year that had millions of users suffering. Though no company can promise an outage-free service, there are methods in place to quickly restore service and make sure data is not lost.

Despite some of the drawbacks and a bit of hype, cloud computing remains a critical trend. Many of you have voiced your opinion on Facebook and Twitter on cloud computing. We would love for you to also sound off in the comments. How would you explain cloud computing to your mother? What do you think of cloud computing? What are some of your predictions for the next 5 to 10 years?

I’d love to look back at this blog post in 5 to 10 years to compare your thoughts!

  1. For me, cloud computing is about buying services that are provided through the Internet. I pay someone to backup my data securely (namely SpiderOak), I pay (though not with money in Google's case) someone to host my e-mail and calendar, I pay someone to host my website (http://www.tomdesair.com)… And this all instead of investing myself in the necessary hardware, software, knowledge and skills. Cloud computing is about outsourcing.

    I think cloud computing is a good thing but privacy and security are major concerns that have to be transparently addressed and this is not the case in many services. Another problem with cloud computing is that you are dependent on the Internet. So there will always be an 'offline component' to be able to work when there is no Internet.

    In the next 5 to 10 years, we will move again to the 'mainframe-model': thin clients and very powerful servers and everything will be streamed form the cloud. Mobile devices might go in the other direction because of their limited Internet connectivity.

    But I also foresee a big problem that is becoming more and more apparent. This is the lack of interoperability in could services. At the moment it is very tedious to migrate from Dropbox to SpiderOak, or to open a document in Google Docs that I've saved in my SpiderOak network and save it again in SpiderOak, or to share a folder with a person that uses SkyDrive… This forces people to choose one 'cloud-service provider' and limits the choice and freedom of a user. And I think that this is something that is holding back the cloud computing model.

  2. Cloud computing can be a number of different things. I think cloud computing has always been around, but has gotten bigger in the corporate sector recently due to recent advancements in virtualization software.

    To me as an end-user though, cloud computing simply means secure online storage with remote access to my data.

    I'm glad I heard about SpiderOak and took the time to read their documentations about their strong cryptography process on their webpage. A company that takes the time to explain how their software works is always welcome.

    It's rare to find a company as open and transparent as SpikerOak. At least that's how I feel as their customer.

  3. With new cloud computing options coming out everyday, I guess cloud will be our new habitat for personal and professional lives.