Can “the cloud” (aka cloud computing) be trusted? [Opinion]

I’m sure most everyone has heard the term “cloud computing” at least once. What exactly is “the cloud” and cloud computing? It actually isn’t as magical — or new — as it may sound.

The cloud has been around for a very long time. In fact, it has been around since the dawn of the internet. Yes, you may not realize it but every time you visit or connect with a website, you are participating in cloud computing. You see, in the most basic form, cloud computing simply refers to computers — typically servers — that do most of the data processing and storage for you; you simply need a conduit — your smartphone, tablet, or computer — to connect to the cloud. For example, technically speaking, dotTech is stored “in the cloud” and every time you visit you are utilizing cloud computing. While cloud computing may be wrapped in a nice bow and tie nowadays, it is nothing new.

Amazon Web Services is one of the most popular cloud computing providers, thanks to the cost saving and quick expansion capabilities offered by Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. As ArsTechnica puts it, “it’s difficult to throw a rock without hitting a large company with a public Web offering that uses it [Amazon Web Services]”. Earlier today, Amazon Web Services went down due to a failure of Amazon Elastic Block Store, taking many websites with it — Redditt, Imgur, GameFAQs, GitHub, FourSquare, and more. While Amazon has seemed to have solved the issue now, the failure of Amazon — regarded as one of the most reliable cloud computing providers out there — posses an important question: can the cloud be trusted?

You see this isn’t Amazon’s first failure. For example, Amazon Web Services went down in April 2011, too. If Amazon’s cloud can go down, then other clouds can, too. With more and more services going from the traditional, offline model to an online, cloud computing model, it is critical now more than ever to ensure reliable cloud computing networks and servers. Sure the world didn’t end when Amazon Web Services went down but it is easy to imagine how it could have been worse. If the pro-online trend continues, we may eventually be storing everything on the cloud with little to no local storage what-so-ever. What happens then if the cloud goes down? No, I’m not talking about being unable to access your porn collection or being unable to play video games for a few hours. I’m talking about having to forgo critical services and records (e.g. medical records, if they are ever moved to the cloud) for a not insignificant period of time. And this isn’t just for data storage — software are more and more relying on a cloud connection to operate than in the past when all processing would happen locally.

“Is the cloud reliable enough to be depended upon” really is a question that needs to be pondered on, not just by the tech industry but policy makers and the general public, too. If we, as a society at the domestic and international levels, insist on moving everything to the cloud, there need to be better redundancies in place to ensure access is never (never) lost — 99.999999999% up-time is no longer acceptable when everything is stored and processed in the cloud.

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