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Why I Don't Let Cloud Computing Cloud My Mind

Robin Miller has seen this sort of thing before: Remember when "The Network was the Computer?"


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There is no such thing as cloud computing. The "cloud" is a bunch of servers that look exactly like non-cloud servers and computers. Do you remember when -- in the world of Sun Microsystems, anyway -- The Network was the Computer? It really wasn't. Computers, it turned out, made up the network.

A couple of years ago I had a fling with what we now call cloud computing. A friend and I had started doing online video ads for local businesses, and we had a couple of acquaintances elsewhere who wanted to make online videos for their local businesses. We thought that instead of everyone buying their own video editing software, we'd put a copy of our favorite video editor on Amazon's EC2 service and set up file storage on Amazon's S3 service.

[login] It took a little work to get everything going, but we did. I made a couple of test/demo video edits with the new system. Then we invited several associates to test it.

The first friend who tried our service called two days later. His video clips were still uploading. Couldn't he just FedEx us his shots on DVDs and have us edit the job for him?

No matter how good the cloud may be, uploading large files -- like raw high definition video -- over the typical home or small business Internet connection is an exercise in frustration. YouTube tried an online video editor experiment in 2007 they called the Remixer. They had no more luck with it than we had with ours, and shut it down after a few months.

SaaS vs. The Cloud

Salesforce.com is suddenly being held up as an example of a cloud-based service. Really? Not long ago, Salesforce.com was selling Software as a Service (SaaS) or was called an Application Service Provider (ASP).

Apparently the "cloud" is mostly the same old Application as a Service is the Network is the Computer (or whatever we used to call it before I got confused). And under whatever name, Richard M. Stallman -- the MacArthur Award-winning inventor of the GNU (as in GNU/Linux) software system and original Emacs developer -- doesn't like it.

"One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control," Stallman said. Well, yes. You do. But then, most of the business owners I know have no real control over their (Windows) desktops, so how is it worse for them if their computing is taking place somewhere in the fog? or cloud?

Oh, wait. That last link is to a story titled Intuit Outage Fuels Cloud Naysayers about Intuit's TurboTax Online, Quickbooks Online, Quicken and Quickbase all going down for 36 hours, which is 36 weeks in Internet time. And just a few days before the Intuit SaaS failure, a story ominously titled Dark Clouds in Computing? talked not only about security and confidentiality problems in the cloud, but also about Google, Rackspace, Amazon, PayPal, and Microsoft failures in what you might call "the cloud" if you are so inclined, which is entirely possible according to a CNet Story that quotes a Wall Street Journal story that quotes Larry Ellison thusly:
"The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can't think of anything that isn't cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?"
But that was Larry Ellison speaking in 2008, while in 2010 Oracle has been touting cloud computing all over the world.

Apparently the idiocy isn't going to stop, Larry. I mean, I'm not going to be getting all misty or cloudy over my computing any time soon, but some will. And some will decide that after you've gone cloud, you sure enough can go back. I just read this article, Why are Businesses Leaving Google Apps? and even though it was published by Microsoft and therefore should be taken with about two pounds of salt, it makes some valid points.

And then there's another article I found, titled From Obsolete Servers to Private Cloud in 3 Easy Steps, in response to which I have to ask, "Say what?"

Yes, this is an excellent (if not new) idea, but isn't this article really talking about a cluster or grid, as we called the arrays we made when we hooked a couple of computers together to share CPU power and storage (and increase reliability) back in the early days of the Bewoulf Cluster?

Back when both IBM and Sun were pushing utility computing, and it was obvious -- at least according to their press releases -- that all sane companies would soon use "metered" servers from one of these companies instead of maintaining their own, I asked PR people from both companies to put me in touch with some utility computing users I could ask how the concept was working out for them. They never found me even one single user, so I concluded that there weren't any, and that utility computing was what some (including me) might call a solution looking for a problem.

This time around, under its new name, the utility SaaS ASP cloud market -- helped, no doubt, by the redefinitions Larry Ellison talked about -- is supposedly worth $68 billion a year.

And, to show you once again that in computing, as in all things, sooner or later everything old is new again, YouTube is rolling out a new online video editor.

Sigh.


   
Robin 'Roblimo' Miller is a writer, editor, and online community builder; author of three IT-related books; and a skilled video director, editor, and producer. He's been covering technology, politics, and business since 1985 for assorted print and online publications, and was a Slashdot editor for 10 years under his "Roblimo" nom de net.
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