Cloud Computing: Perilous Pitfall or Panacea?

There’s never a dull moment for those of us lucky enough to be part of the technology industry, and we here at LinuxInsider are just as prone as the next tech enthusiasts to get caught up in the excitement of new innovations and ideas.

Take cloud computing. It’s a concept that has been grabbing an increasing portion of the digital ink on our pages and elsewhere, thanks not only to its promise but also to the growing numbers of related announcements coming from tech companies far and wide.

So we took pause when we came across a recent interview with none other than GNU founder Richard Stallman in which he fairly smashes the concept to smithereens. “It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity: it’s a marketing hype campaign,” Stallman told The Guardian.

Web-based software will ultimately lock users into proprietary and expensive systems that seriously compromise privacy, Stallman argued.

‘I Agree with RMS’

Now, when virtually any comment issues from the lips of RMS, the FOSS community tends to sit up and take notice. But when those comments blast an up-and-coming new technology, let’s just say it’s pretty big news.

The topic was immediately seized upon throughout the blogosphere — including LXer, the Linux Loop and elsewhere — and most commentators seemed to agree with Stallman’s sentiment wholeheartedly.

“I agree with RMS,” wrote garymax on Lxer. “The cloud computing paradigm takes too many of our freedoms away and does lock us into one way of doing our computing. Hopefully this trend will pass soon.”

Alternatively, “The trend is only in the articles, not actual computing,” asserted bigg.

FOSS in the Cloud

“I think the key is to leverage FOSS in the cloud,” added Steven Rosenber. “If we ignore the cloud, it won’t go away. I think it’s a good idea to bring open standards and software to the cloud so we’re not left on the sidelines if and when this model for storage and applications takes off.”

Similarly, “I agree with Stallman that there is a potential risk to putting your data in a closed-source, closed standards web application,” wrote Thomas Teisberg on the Linux Loop. “I do not believe, however, that it is fair to say that web applications in general are a data trap, or, for that matter, in any way something to avoid. If a web application is open-source, supports open standards, and has a good privacy policy, I see little to worry about.”

Should we be scrapping our plans for all-cloud-computing-all-the-time coverage? Or is there still some value in the concept? Inquiring minds at LinuxInsider wanted to know.

‘Dot-Com-Style Insanity’

“Welcome to the downside of the fad of the month,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider. “Cloud computing as a concept isn’t idiocy. It’s just been extended to idiotic lengths.”

There has been a rash of “dot-com-style insanity” over cloud computing, where the thinking seems to be, “it’s been great on the desktop — let’s try it as a cloud app,” Mack asserted.

“Why do they think any app can be extended to the cloud?” he questioned. “It’s great for things that I actually need to access remotely, such as e-mail or apps that involve collaborative data, but what kind of idiot would want to run office type document typesetting or graphics editing online?”

Some things will always be better locally on the desktop, Mack concluded. “If one tool was great for every job, we wouldn’t need both hammers and screwdrivers. I can’t imagine why people keep thinking that same logic can’t be applied to computers,” he said.

Giving Up Control

“I think Richard is right,” Kevin Dean, a blogger on Monochrome Mentality, told LinuxInsider. Dean recently posted an article supporting cloud computing.

“I sit here and type this out on my Gmail interface, but the truth is you DO give up some control when you place your data in the hands of other companies,” Dean explained. “Your data is on their servers, but it’s inaccessible if their servers crash, if they have a routing problem or — even worse — vanish like several Web-driven services providers have, and your data is just gone. We place our trust in Web service providers to give us constant access to our oh-so-important data, yet we’re fundamentally limiting ourselves by doing so.”

Regarding privacy, however, “as a voluntaryist and a proponent of the free market, I have no qualms about letting companies have some of my information even if they’re like Google and sifting through my personal e-mail,” Dean asserted. “The reason I don’t mind, frankly, is that I have choice. Giving that information to them helps them provide services to me. If I don’t like those services, or those practices, I can simply ‘vote with my dollars'” and stop funding them.

Meanwhile, there are ways to increase privacy, such as encryption and anonymity, that aren’t in direct conflict with Web services, Dean noted.

Addressing a Real Need

“What I think Richard might be ignoring, to a certain extent, is the need for cloud computing,” he added. “The free market, allowed to be innovative, has produced the likes of YouTube and Flickr and Dropbox and all these data-intensive, user-driven services that have created a massive demand for the ability to move data quickly. The telecom, cable and wireless companies, however, are unable, unwilling or disallowed from offering services that would let the user fully utilize these kinds of things on their own.”

Free of artificial influences, “I believe innovators would produce cloud-computing services, but release [them] as open protocols, documented specs and open source software,” Dean said. “Then, the service providers would actually be left competing on the quality of their service.”

One Web service might market itself as “a leader in privacy” and use encryption-by-default, while another would complete with lower prices and higher storage capacity, for example; both, however, “would leave you the option to do it yourself if you felt that was best,” he added.

“I believe that’s the logical cloud computing shift, if ONLY the user-side infrastructure were in place to support it,” Dean concluded. “It makes me sad to think of the missed potential because it isn’t.”

‘A Great Option’

Stallman’s concept — “that Linux offers a level of freedom and safety and security above hosted services — is like insisting that people are safer driving their own cars than taking public transportation,” Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider.

“I think that Mr. Stallman went a bit over the edge on this,” King asserted. “I think the primary benefit of engaging in cloud services is a lessening or elimination of computing complexity — getting the type of computing performance you need without most of the headaches. It won’t be on everybody’s list of must-do services; however, I think for certain companies and individuals, cloud computing is a great option.”

1 Comment

  • Cloud Computing and Corporate Culpability

    Re: Cloud Computing Security Risks and Accountability for Loss of Data, Breach of Privacy and Other Violations

    I AM not a lawyer. I don’t play one on television. And after my last divorce, I have no motivation to further enrich any member of the legal profession. Nevertheless, my first and best advice to any American business executive considering "cloud computing", "SaaS" or "PaaS" as cost-cutting solutions in recessionary times is GET THEE TO AN ATTORNEY!

    Regardless of who wins the White House next Tuesday–Oblabla and the Mouth, or Geezer and Gidget–and no matter what remuda of Republocrats controls our Congress thereafter, the recently exposed excesses of Wall Street’s Bonus Buccaneer CEOs guarantee increased scrutiny and accountability for executives at all levels and in all arenas, including and perhaps especially that of the CIO. In such a charged political environment, any harm, damage, loss or breach of HIPAA or other privacy mandates attributable to corporate decisions to outsource sensitive information for bottom-line benefit is likely to have repercussions that go far beyond reversing any perceived savings. And when time comes for the ax to fall in the boardroom–or worse, the gavel in the courtroom–rest assured that your cries to blame the Data Manager in Mumbai will fall on deaf ears.

    Bruce Arnold, Miami Web Designer

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