There’s alot of talk these days about Cloud Computing. The idea is a move away from the traditional hard-drive based computing we all know and store all of our data on the internet. We won’t even need to spend cash on hard disk space because our data will be accessible for us anywhere on a range of devices through the cloud. But how much of a step forward is the cloud and are we ready to entrust all our data to the net?
Google thinks we are, last month unveiling the ChromeBook, the first device to really embrace the cloud. What makes Chromebooks so different to an ordinary laptop? There’s no storage space, no large hard-drive to speak of. There’s not even programmes or applications on this laptop and there’s barely an operating system. Why? Because everything you need is stored on Google’s servers, all you need is an internet connection.
There’s obviously a great deal of advantages to this. One of them being the price. With no high end hardware needed (as most of the work can be done online), cloud based computers like ChromeBooks can end up being much cheaper than their higher-end alternatives. And of course you wont have to splash out on expensive software for your cloud machine, or have to install it. Google already have several web-based apps on their servers (including everyone’s favourite game Angry Birds!). You can use office products, edit media, engage in video calls and utilise social media all for free without ever installing a single application on your machine.
Having less data stored on your system has a couple more plus points. The ChromeBook for example can start up, from completely powered-off to running websites, within 8 seconds. Compare that to how long it took you to start-up Windows 7 (or other laggy OS) earlier and that’s quite incredible! The reason for the speed, it has hardly anything to load. It also means you are almost guaranteed to never have a virus as there is nothing on your system to attack, clever!
The key factor that most companies are pushing with cloud computing is the ability to access your data anywhere using many devices. Amazon are jumping on this with their CloudDrive and CloudPlayer allowing you to access your files and music on any computer, tablet or smartphone device. Of course with the cloud, you don’t even need to own the files. Music-streaming sites like Grooveshark and Spotify allow you to listen to pretty much anything you want, wherever you want. There’s no need to actually ‘own’ this stuff anymore.
But that’s just the thing. I’m not sure I’m ready to let go of all that. I like having things that I actually own, a bit like CD’s (we all put them on our iPod’s, but I like to have a tangible souvenir when I buy an album). I know with data on a device it;s a bit different (you can;t touch it for one thing), but I like to have my own copies of my fav music, movies, pictures etc rather than relying on the web to look after all of these.
Indeed, at the moment I’m having intermittent internet problems with my laptop. This is frustrating, but not troublesome to my whole computer experience. What happens if a Chromebook can’t connect? You have no laptop. If you store everything in the cloud as we are being encouraged to, you wont be able to access any of it during a network outage, something which should never happen with a local hard drive.
And if you put all your data in the cloud, you’re also giving all your data to another company. They say they’ll do nothing but look after it, but underneath there’ll be scanners monitoring everything you upload, learning all about you, what you look like, what you do, what you like.
With all this stored online, we are putting a massive amount of trust in the online companies and we all know that these servers aren’t always the most secure, look at Sony. By putting more and more data online, we’re just making it easier not only for companies to learn about us for their market research, but for our entire lives to be hacked by the cyber criminals that lurk web-wide.
We are of course already uploading alot of personal data on services doing this with the likes of Facebook, webmail, even online shopping. At the moment that data is a small amount, negligible – and the fact that it is brings us to another issue, webspace.
I have a 500gb hard drive, considered a fairly medium size of hard disk space in 2011. Yes this is 100 times more than most cloud
providers will give you. 5gb is simply not enough to store everything you need, even if you’ll be sharing several files with others. I have more than that in photo’s alone and I don’t consider myself a very serious photographer (yet!).
Working with online apps can also be a bit of a drag. Sure you can edit video/photos audio online, but it’ll take you a while to upload and download it all. Things like this just work much better locally and until with a 1GB/s download option, it’s just not going to be feesable.
I should point out that I am not entirely against the cloud. It has several great advantages, I just don’t think we are ready (or possiblywill ever be ready) to fully embrace it and effectively make hard drives redundant. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I will alway like to keep the main hub of all my data as my main computer, with portions of it online/on other devices.
And this is perhaps where I see the advantage in something like iCloud, Apple’s upcoming cloud service. The idea is to keep your devices in sync as much as possible. For example, if you take a photo on your iPhone, it will be uploaded next time your in Wi-Fi range and then pushed down to all you other (Apple) devices. This idea uses the cloud as a way of copying your data everywhere quickly, but crucially doesn’t keep it stored only in the cloud. Apple will also allow you to back-up online (which is also a very handy feature of all cloud services) as well as sync your e-mails and calendars instantly without even knowing it’s happening.
This is the kind of cloud service I will use. It’s basic and it’s more of a synchronising service that a cloud storage drive, but I’m not ready to abandon my hard-drive for the cloud yet and I think with some of the limitations there still are, it will be a long while until we all are.
But I’m also aware at the speed tech moves, the hard-drive could be defunct by this time next year…