Doctorow on Cloud Computing

Cory Doctorow, one of the lead authors of Boing Boing, writes in the technology section of the British newspaper “The Guardian” his thoughts on cloud computing. And those thoughts, summed up, are:

The main attraction of the cloud to investors and entrepreneurs is the idea of making money from you, on a recurring, perpetual basis, for something you currently get for a flat rate or for free without having to give up the money or privacy that cloud companies hope to leverage into fortunes.

We talk about cloud computing upsides a whole lot. And for companies, being able to essentially outsource your IT needs to an external company is an option that may reduce costs under certain situations. It may increase costs over the long term in others. Knowing which is which – which apps benefit from “cloudification” and which are better left in-house, is a big part of IT management and budgeting these days.

Can you live with the performance downgrade? Cloud computing typically isn’t a solution for “doing more with less,” it is often a solution for “doing less with less” – but that may be all that your company needs. It comes down to knowing what your requirements are, and monitoring your networks to make sure that you can meet them.

But Doctorow points out that the main difference between cloud services and traditional IT is that cloud services are designed to get you to pay-per-X, where X could be Gigabytes, CPU Cycles, storage size, virtual server deployments… and to pay-per-X repeatedly through a rental, rather than ownership model. In other words, what were once capital costs are now being shifted to operational costs.

To the average person, however, Doctorow points out that cloud services are a reversal of the trend that we had been seeing throughout most of the 21st century so far – the idea of charging per service giving way to ownership of software and dumb Internet pipes bringing you the services you chose to access. Even if that “charge” is indirect – for example, through on-screen advertising – the idea is that you pay something for the cloud service every time you use it.

Personally, cloud computing has its place, but network access has a performance price that I sometimes don’t want to pay.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing a non-fiction book in my spare time, and have gotten 30,000 words done so far. I started out using Google Docs, as I could access Google Docs from anywhere with an Internet connection – my laptop, my work computer, or my desktop, and have access to the most current version of the document.

But around that 30,000 word mark, the document started to slow down, with noticeable lag when I typed. My performance suffered, so I did what, I suppose, was inevitable. I now edit the document in the OpenOffice.org desktop application, using Google Docs more as a storage platform than an editing platform.

It is important to remember that despite the wonderful advances – and they are wonderful – that cloud computing gives us, cloud computing is just one option out of many.

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