What Is The Cloud?

Office SpaceWhat the hell? How did this \\heaven\HP4650 printer get added to my system at login!?

Enter Google Cloud Print.

“By connecting your printer with the Google Cloud you will be able to print to your printer from any computer or smart phone, regardless of where you are. Just activate the Google Cloud Print connector in Google Chrome and your printer will automatically be available to you from Google Cloud Print enabled web and mobile apps.”

The Google Cloud? The Cloud? Cloud Computing? In the Cloud? Google Computing? In the Google!? AAAGGGHHH SHORT CIRCUIT….

Utterly confusing. This is simply the American way, re-branding old $hit for profit. So Google has their own Cloud in the sky. I guess the way they see it, different Cloud-based providers will have their own “Clouds” (read: data centers) where they host and provision software, services and resources on the web.

But how is Google Cloud Print any different than setting up Internet Printing Protocol on your HP Color LaserJet 4650 or Canon iR5000 printer? I’ll tell you the glaring differences:

  • Requires Google Chrome on the computer that will be sharing the printer.
  • Requires Google Cloud Print-enabled apps to print from, such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Chrome OS. There aren’t many alternatives at this point.
  • Works with just about any printer attached to your computer.
  • You now rely on Google as a middle man between your internet device and your printer at home.

To emphasize that last bold statement:

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The cloud model has been criticized by privacy advocates for the greater ease in which the companies hosting the cloud services control, and thus, can monitor at will, lawfully or unlawfully, the communication and data stored between the user and the host company. Instances such as the secret NSA program, working with AT&T, and Verizon, which recorded over 10 million phone calls between American citizens, causes uncertainty among privacy advocates, and the greater powers it gives to telecommunication companies to monitor user activity.

Source: Wikipedia

OK, Google Cloud Print does offer some nice features, like being able to work with just about any printer rather than being restricted to only printers with an internet printing feature or IPP support. But the price you pay is a commitment to use more of their software and a trust relationship with Google that says I rely on Google to treat my documents with confidentiality and prevent them from ever reaching the eyes of someone I did not intend. This trust relationship is a win for Google, but a lose for you. It is an attempt to monopolize the internet market.

I’m all for open standards, and Internet Printing Protocol wins hands down over this one. Only problem is, where is the widespread adoption from printer manufacturers?

Couldn’t this be even easier? What if your printer had it’s own email address that you could simply send your photos/documents to, and it would print them out immediately? It’s already possible with HP’s internet printing feature, available for HP printers priced $99 and up. It was designed to meet the demands of customers who wish to print from any internet-connected device, such as smartphones, netbooks, tablets, etc. From the original news post where I got this info, there isn’t a single mention of the word “Cloud”.

To me, Google Cloud Printing is just a web-based service, NOT a true Cloud service. And that begs the question, what is the difference between internet services and cloud services, and where do we draw the line?

Google isn’t the only one blowing clouds out their asses, and certainly isn’t the worst culprit. Check out this stupid Windows 7 commercial which depicts someone copying a file from a Remote Desktop session to their local desktop:


This commercial just raises more questions about what the Cloud really is.

Cloud Washing

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Forrester Research VP Frank Gillett questions the very nature of and motivation behind the push for cloud computing, describing what he calls “cloud washing” in the industry whereby companies relabel their products as cloud computing resulting in a lot of marketing innovation on top of real innovation.

Source: Wikipedia

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CEO Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation asserts that cloud computing is “everything that we already do”, claiming that the company could simply “change the wording on some of our ads” to deploy their cloud-based services.

Source: Wikipedia

Origin of the Cloud

So where does this idea come from that the Internet is now a Cloud instead of a series of tubes? Perhaps it comes from network topology diagrams that engineers have been scribbling together for the past hundred years? See for yourself:

Cisco Network Diagram

Network Diagram

It would be naive of me to say that the Cloud is merely the Internet in disguise. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to downplay the importance of the Cloud or Cloud Computing in today’s industry.

Problems With Cloud Computing

For one thing, all it takes is for someone to guess your password and your dirty little secrets in the Cloud are now at the whim of someone else’s every desire. This malicious person now has the potential to steal your identity, alter your information and damage your reputation.

So this has always been possible…who cares? The point I’m trying to make is that even more of your information – and perhaps all of it in the future – will be stored in the Cloud. The recent push for a unified login such as Login with Facebook or Google’s OpenID attempt exacerbates this issue further. What was once only possible if a person had physical access to your computer is now possible over the internet from anywhere in the world: the skeleton key into someone’s private life. One way Google tries to prevent this is by tracking which IP address logs into the account and if the IP address is not the usual recognized one, it asks for verification via text message or email.

Google D.C.

Google D.C. will save the Cloud from destruction! Art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair.

Google D.C. in a publicized conference expressed some very real concerns regarding the security of Cloud Computing throughout the industry.

The most obvious problem at least to me suggests that the courts have interpreted cloud computing in such a way where you lose your constitutional rights to your personal property when it is stored in the cloud.

If I’ve interpreted this properly, it means that a court can seize your Google Documents from Google without your knowledge, but if you had stored these documents as Word/Excel files on your personal computer at home, the court would need a written warrant to seize your computer which contains that personal property. One member of the conference optimistically stated “we hope that will change over time.”

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“But in general, many Internet service providers turn over electronic records to investigators in response to a simple subpoena, while old-fashioned paper records require the higher standard of a judge-issued warrant. Just because information travels over a wire and sits on a server doesn’t mean it should be less protected by the Constitution, Radia argued.”

“We run the risk of users lacking trust in cloud computing and in many information services if a user cannot be confident their information will remain secure,” Radia said. “If cloud computing is going to realize its full potential, if the industry is going to succeed, we need to be sure there is privacy protection. We can’t expect the technology to work around the limitations of federal law.”

Source: NBC - The Constitutional Issues of Cloud Computing

Some research presented during the Google D.C. conference highlights real-world user concerns:

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  • 90% of cloud application users say they would be very concerned if the company at which their data were stored sold it to another party.
  • 80% say they would be very concerned if companies used their photos or other data in marketing campaigns.
  • 68% of users of at least one of the six cloud applications say they would be very concerned if companies who provided these services analyzed their information and then displayed ads to them based on their actions.
  • 63% say that they would be very concerned if a company were to keep a copy of files even if they try to delete them.
  • 49% say they would be very concerned if a company gave law enforcement agencies your files when asked to do so.

Source: Google D.C. Talks: Cloud Computing

Offline Access

If you need access to your information in the Cloud while your internet is down or the service provider is offline, good luck! There are solutions designed to mitigate this problem, such as Google Gears, but they are mostly catered towards specific cloud services, although this problem is universal and affects all of Cloud Computing.

I can think of something better right off the top of my head: a Cloud Sync program for PC/Mac/Linux/Smartphones that accesses all of your Cloud-based services and downloads your information so it is available offline for your viewing pleasure. This data can be automatically encrypted for further protection. Or digging even deeper, imagine if Cloud-based services could include their own virtual hosts that kick on whenever the user or device enters an offline state, allowing the user to queue up changes while offline, and then sync those changes back to the Cloud when the connection to the service is restored.

One of the main aspects of Cloud Computing is how Cloud-based services are designed with intercommunication in mind, and API’s are what really enable the developers to make that happen. With an API, we can implement parts of Cloud-based services into other applications, allowing them to communicate and support each other with their own subsets of information.

Unfortunately, not all Cloud-based services are equal, and not all of them implement these important aspects of Cloud Computing, so a Cloud Sync program while possible, is possibly just a pipe dream at this point. The more I think about it, the more I’m leaning towards making a Cloud Sync program and forcing Cloud-based service providers to comply or die!

Marketing and Concerns Aside…

Cloud computing brings about exciting changes to the way systems operate and how devices communicate with each other. By leveraging the power of the internet, instant communication and data transfers, web based services, software as a service, data centers, and hosted/virtual servers, we have come about an evolution of technologies, or an assimilation if you will, where each piece of technology plays a supporting role. It’s not like we didn’t already have all of the technologies to cloud compute our butts off 10 or 15 years ago…we did.

Unfortunately, the big players (Microsoft, Google, etc) can’t seem to move enough vapors into the public eye to get their cloud boats sailing, and in turn, bring enough people on board to raise awareness of the pitfalls associated with cloud computing and eliminate them altogether through new laws and digital security measures.

Only a few things remain which may be stunting the growth of Cloud Computing, and when experts can overcome those problems, Cloud Computing will end up being more important and useful to an increasingly mobile society than the world wide web could ever dream of.

Updates In This Article

  • 2011-07-27 – Added a link to an excellent whitepaper from IBM in the Further Reading section.

Related Stories & I Told You So…

A company’s e-mail data in the cloud vanishes when their provider goes out of business. (3/22/2011)

One of the companies that I provide IT services for recently had to switch their Cloud-based e-mail provider when their old provider evaporated, and since their e-mails were stored exclusively in the Cloud, they evaporated along with the provider. Their new provider told them to use Outlook with POP3 this time (which I 100% agree with), because Outlook downloads the e-mails locally, so even if the Cloud-based e-mail service went offline or out of business, they would still have their e-mails.

I posted this article on reddit.com where some readers have shared their own opinions. (3/30/2011)

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At first, nothing will change. You will store your music in the “cloud” since it will be made avialable to you anywhere which is great right? But as you get used to it eventually companies will want to make more money and will start charging you storage fees and also “access” fees.

Eventually, they’ll find ways to search through those files to find illegally downloaded/shared files, and the MPAA and RIAA will have a hand in this, and those files will be deleted without your consent and you’ll be facing a very large fine.

“Cloud computing” puts more control in the hands of other individuals.

Sure it’s relevantly obscure now, but remember even the internet itself was free at one time, until the “ISPs” got their hands on it.

Source: mechanicalhorizon on reddit.com

Major cloud storage providers like Amazon create a viable market for cloud music systems. (3/31/2011)

Cloud music systems seem to be cropping up in the news lately. Today on the front page of Amazon.com is the Amazon Cloud Player, with 5 GB of free storage for Amazon Cloud Drive.

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“Anything you put in Cloud Drive is robustly stored in Amazon’s datacenters. You can upload your music collection to Cloud Drive, as well as any other digital documents.”

Source: Amazon.com

Real-world interpretation, coming soon to a news story near you:

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“Lady, 86, grandmother of 5, sued for $75,000,000,000,000 by the RIAA after uploading copy of YG’s hit single “Toot It and Boot It” to Amazon Cloud Drive.”

Source: The future, bitch!

Seriously though, CNN published an article on the challenges and solutions just around the corner, where some people have started a debate similar to the one I have been proposing.

Although the recording industry seems bothered by this idea of Cloud Music, I see it as the end-all solution to their troubles with digital rights management and music piracy. By restricting access to music with a username and password, record companies and publishers can control who has access to the music and also build a full audit trail of every subscriber. They can charge a-la-carte per song or force you into buying an entire album. They can even charge you monthly subscription fees, so when you’re not buying music, you’re still buying music!

RIAA to sue LimeWire for $75,000,000,000,000. (3/31/2011)

Yep, that’s 75 trillion, a figure larger than the entire recording industry has grossed to date. The Hacker News reports that an anonymous group of internet users in protest launched a denial-of-service attack on the RIAA website which brought it offline for 5 hours.

The Amazon Cloud Collapse (4/22/2011)

In a recent Mashable article, Ben Parr blasts Amazon with a critical headline The Amazon Cloud Collapse, where it was explained to me why my favorite website Reddit.com was offline for several hours. Apparently, the Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) data center where Reddit.com is hosted experienced an extended outage due to a single point of failure in Amazon’s software design. Other popular services hosted by the EC2 data center, such as Foursquare and HootSuite, were also affected. Mashable follows up to explain what we can learn from Amazon’s cloud collapse.

The Amazon Cloud Collapse: Customers’ Data Permanently Destroyed! (4/28/2011)

BusinessInsider.com follows up on the catastrophic Amazon Cloud collapse, where they report that many customers’ data has been permanently destroyed. Some of Amazon’s larger clients may find some depressing news in their Inbox:

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A few days ago we sent you an email letting you know that we were working on recovering an inconsistent data snapshot of one or more of your Amazon EBS volumes.  We are very sorry, but ultimately our efforts to manually recover your volume were unsuccessful.  The hardware failed in such a way that we could not forensically restore the data.

What we were able to recover has been made available via a snapshot, although the data is in such a state that it may have little to no utility…

If you have no need for this snapshot, please delete it to avoid incurring storage charges.

We apologize for this volume loss and any impact to your business.

Amazon Web Services, EBS Support

This message was produced and distributed by Amazon Web Services LLC, 410 Terry Avenue North, Seattle, Washington 98109-5210

Source: BusinessInsider.com

Amazon Cloud Collapse: All Companies Affected Will Receive 10 Days of Credit (4/29/2011)

Amazon’s report of the incident can be read in full detail here. Amazon stated in their report that all companies affected by the collapse will receive a 10 day credit:

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For customers with an attached EBS volume or a running RDS database instance in the affected Availability Zone in the US East Region at the time of the disruption, regardless of whether their resources and application were impacted or not, we are going to provide a 10 day credit equal to 100% of their usage of EBS Volumes, EC2 Instances and RDS database instances that were running in the affected Availability Zone. These customers will not have to do anything in order to receive this credit, as it will be automatically applied to their next AWS bill. Customers can see whether they qualify for the service credit by logging into their AWS Account Activity page.

Source: Amazon

Dropbox Lied to Users About Data Security (5/13/2011)

Once again, we see the glaring problem with Cloud storage and privacy.

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The FTC complaint charges Dropbox (.pdf) with telling users that their files were totally encrypted and even Dropbox employees could not see the contents of the file. Ph.D. student Christopher Soghoian published data last month showing that Dropbox could indeed see the contents of files, putting users at risk of government searches, rogue Dropbox employees, and even companies trying to bring mass copyright-infringement suits.

Amazon EBS failure brings down Reddit, Imgur, others (10/22/2012)

Again Amazon!?

Source: Wired.com

Further Reading


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