“The Cloud” seems to be that magical place where you can send your data and not worry about storage, hard drive crashes, or accidental erasure. You need access to some of your data? Just tell the cloud, and the data will appear on your device. I am using the cloud myself: I automatically back up all my important files to one of those invisible places – but I regularly back up to a very tangible external hard drive on my desk as well. And let’s not forget: my website as well as this blog with all its content reside in the cloud.
There always have been certain dangers: companies offering storage in the cloud are radically changing their conditions of service; they are going into bankruptcy, disappearing together with the data of their users; they are being bought by bigger companies and important conditions of storage change without recourse; or they are being bought and let die. Many users have been cut off from their data and irreversibly lost valuable content.
The recent falling out between Wikileaks and Amazon as well as Wikileaks and PayPal show another corner from which problems can arise in the cloud: the user agreement. For most people, this agreement is something they click away as quickly as possible. But it is an interesting exercise to soldier on and read through one of those agreements. They absolve the companies offering the on-line service pretty much from all responsibility whereas the user has to observe minutely described and often arcane conditions. In addition, those companies can terminate their service to the user literally at any time and for any reason.
Is this really a framework to which you can entrust your data with confidence? In a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik used his column to “look at the cloud from both sides now.” (Joni Mitchell fans will recognize the quote; others can click on the audio player below.) At the beginning of December, Simon Phipps wrote about the risks of the cloud in Computerworld UK.
It is not difficult to understand why users go for a solution that requires no new equipment, costs very little, and is easily available from everywhere. Before you entrust your valuable data to a place that is totally outside your control, however, you should do your homework and read the user agreement as well as get an idea about the longer-term stability of the set-up. The growing discussion about the cloud will help develop some basic requirements all solution providers should fulfill.