To put it mildly, it's been a bad week for cloud computing. First of all word got out that Microsoft, the keepers of the data for users of Sidekick phones completely hosed the data. I mean kaput, gone, vanished. See you later, bye. If you don't have a back up, you are pretty much screwed because the keepers of the data have committed the ultimate sin and lost it.
Meanwhile, the The Unofficial Apple Weblog reports that MobileMe might be having a data leak and letting people randomly see the contents of your address book. This is the kind of nightmare scenario that cloud computing naysayers always seem to bring up, but we quickly dismiss as not likely to happen. Well, it did happen and it happened twice in one week.
We're Not Talking an Outage Here
Last month, I made fun of they hysteria that developed when Gmail went down for a few hours in my post, The Day Gmail Stood Still: A Tale of Horror, but losing a service for a few hours is a minor annoyance. Losing your data? That's catastrophic and there is no sugar coating it. That these two cloud computing doomsday scenarios were perpetrated, not by some Mom and Pop cloud company, but by two of the largest computing organizations, Apple and Microsoft, makes the situation all that much worse.
Tough to Defend
As a fan of cloud computing, I tend to dismiss the control arguments I hear when people say they won't let their data out of their sight. The easiest argument here, which frankly is the one that vendors always seem to say, is that your data is probably safer with them than it is with you. After all they have fail-safe systems, back-ups of their back-ups and your data is safer with them because you won't be as thorough. What's more their reputation is on the line, right? If something like this happens, well their whole business model is basically up in smoke.
Apple and Microsoft Are Not Pure Cloud Vendors
If Google or Salesforce lost or leaked data in this fashion, it would be truly a monumental failure since this is what they do for a living. That it was Apple and Microsoft, is still horrible, but this is not their primary business model. They still sell other services, hardware, software and so forth. The cloud business is a sideline and maybe that's the problem.
As we navigate this new way of computing, let's not panic and throw the baby out with the bath water, but neither can we idly dismiss data backup and data leak concerns as the worries of control freaks. It's something we should all be concerned about. Something we should all be asking hard questions about and something we need to take much more seriously because next time, the data could be yours and it won't be so abstract. Remember it's ultimately your data and always make sure there is a way for you to back it up locally so that you have a copy too in case your vendor turns out to be someone incompetent, like say Apple or Microsoft.
Cloud computing means more than hosting your data on the Internet.
True cloud computing means that your data and the services that you use to work with that data are not only out on the Internet, but that they are also replicated across multiple data centers that are geographically diverse.
Obviously, Microsoft's Sidekick data was NOT contained in a 'Cloud-based' system. It was contained in a single system that was not being backed up that just happened to be connected to the Internet. They may have called it a cloud . . . but obviously it was not.
While I appreciate the subtle distinctions of your definition, what you describe is how it was supposed to work. What this situation proves is not that this isn't an example of cloud computing because I would argue that it is, but that Microsoft failed the most basic requirements as a cloud vendor. It was definitely cloud computing in my view, just done very poorly.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment.
I would like to suggest that Microsoft (through Danger, its cloud subsidiary) did have a real cloud -- but that it failed, perhaps due to an encryption key or other database failure, instantly replicated throughout all geodistributed locations. In other words, I strongly suspect that this is a lesson in the need for real incremental ground-based backup of the cloud, something which is often neglected.
That's an excellent thought, jbrickman. Encryption key corruption and really any problem with the data would be the Achille's heal of the cloud, wouldn't it, because the corruption would be replicated across all copies of the data within moments.
I'm not quite technical enough to understand how the encryption key corruption could cause such a problem, but it seems like those who are paid to maintain the data would be aware of such a danger, no? And would plan for such a possibility? I don't think even a plausible explanation would excuse the data loss. It's up to Microsoft to make sure it doesn't happen.
Thanks for the conversation here. It's great when readers respond and get into a discussion around what I've written. I really appreciate it.
That's exactly correct, Ron. No matter what kind of system you have, no matter what kind of challenges your data eventually faces, the bottom line is that you need to have a backup. And even better is a backup of the backup.
I believe Ken Hess (who is our Linux blogger) writes frequently about virtualization. If we come across meaningful stories in those areas, you can be sure we will be writing about them. Definitely interesting areas of computing and worth writing more about.
Regarding the Microsoft data loss, I'm not sure why you believe "Cloud Computing" has taken a hit from this data loss. Is there something fundamental within the paradigm that would have allowed this data loss to occur that would not have allowed it to occur in any other situation? Why blame Cloud Computing?
It seems to me that data storage is a general problem that exists under any number of technologies, not just under cloud computing, and therefore should be treated as general problem.