Squinting at Cloud Formations

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sudha Nagaraj


The problem with the cloud is that it can evaporate leaving no trace behind! The weekend thunderbolt that hit over a million subscribers of T-Mobile Sidekick, operated by the Microsoft subsidiary, Danger Inc in the US, is standing testimony to the whimsical nature of cloud computing.


When a user is so trusting of vendors that he entrusts all data to them –meaning storage, management, retrieval and backup is done on a remote server –it means he wants to be free of the responsibility for his data. In other words, he vests all responsibility in the vendor and pays for the service that enables him to access it whenever he wishes. 


Of course there is a risk: security could be compromised; privacy could be violated; outages could hamper your schedule….but loss of data forever and ever? Now, that is something new. The very wording of the apology published underscores this:


“Regrettably, based on Microsoft/Danger's latest recovery assessment of their systems, we must now inform you that personal information stored on your device - such as contacts, calendar entries, to-do lists or photos - that is no longer on your Sidekick almost certainly has been lost as a result of a server failure at Microsoft/Danger. That said, our teams continue to work around-the-clock in hopes of discovering some way to recover this information. However, the likelihood of a successful outcome is extremely low.”


The blame game is on and theories abound on what happened, why it happened and what it means to Microsoft, Sidekick and cloud computing. Let us keep that aside for now and look at the solutions afloat.


The most obvious discussion that is doing the rounds is the importance of data storage at the customer end; the need for portability of data if the customer deems fit and for on-site and online backup.


But don’t these features defeat the very purpose of cloud computing in its most liberal sense?  Absolutely. However that may well be the message that certain SaaS and “software plus services” providers want to drive across. While contacts, to-do lists and images may be more in the realm of personal data, it is enterprise data and clients that “evolving” cloud infrastructure and service providers are eyeing to rake in the moolah.  It is these clients who do not want “everything in the cloud.” And so be it…fresh offerings are probably round the corner with convoluted service level agreements and quality of service parameters attached! No doubt at a hefty price.

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