I’ve been reflecting on all the hype surrounding Cloud-based file storage recently.
To hear some industry pundits describe it, the Cloud – where we store our data on servers located outside our office or home – is the most incredible event to hit technology since the invention of the microprocessor.
This may be a bit exaggerated, but in looking at the recent press, there is a strong feeling of “jump to the Cloud now, or die!” My point is that jumping to the Cloud could kill you.
THE CLOUD HAS SOME SERIOUS HOLES IN IT
The Cloud is an attractive idea. By storing all your media on a central repository “out there,” you can access it safely from anywhere, without duplicating media.
Attractive, that is, until it doesn’t work. For example, the Cloud failed spectacularly for Amazon this last week, shuttering access to dozens of websites around the world, locking up data in an outage that lasted for days.
Or when it gets hacked. As happened to the Sony Playstation Network, with the theft of personal, and perhaps credit card, data for tens of millions of users.
Or when the vendor goes out of business and takes your data with them when they fail.
These are not small companies with an immature IT staff. These are among the biggest, most technically savvy companies in the world.
As David Chernicoff wrote on ZDNet: “The choice [to store your media in the Cloud], of course, is [up to each company], but it does beg the question. I might choose to bet my business future on a cloud provider, but if it’s up to me, there had better be a very effective plan B in place.”
Now, more and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon of providing access to technology, or storage for our data, from the Cloud. The problem is that you have far more to lose than they do.
Cloud-computing is totally unregulated. Each vendor has it’s own proprietary system for storing and protecting your data. There are no standards, regulated levels of service, or penalties if standards are not met. In other words, if a vendor doesn’t live up to their promises, the person that suffers the most is you.
Clearly, as researchers at Princeton University wrote in a recent report, “One potential solution to this issue is strict regulation and standards within the realm of cloud computing. Measures need to be put in place, ranging from mandatory breach notification laws (which eighteen states currently lack) to stringent security enforcement requirements. These regulations and standards already exist in the world of e-commerce (which processes millions of credit card numbers a year without much incident). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just needs to update their regulations to keep up with the cloud computing craze. This fact has not escaped the Senate, which has recently motioned to push the FTC to begin regulating both security and privacy in the cloud.”
Driving this concern home is that, if you believe the rumor sites, Apple is working on integrating the Cloud with the next version of Mac OS X. I would like to see Apple take the lead in establishing a system of standards to help us judge the quality, security, and availability of our data on the cloud.
Or, at a minimum, look at what is being done by the Cloud Security Alliance.
A LOOK BACK AT THE CLOUD
As readers of my monthly Final Cut Studio newsletter know, I’ve been skeptical of the Cloud for a long time. My biggest concern when we move critical data to the Cloud is that we lose control over it. We can access it, but it also becomes far easier for others, unapproved by us, to access it as well. However, in spite of the risks, I’ve realized that it is time to modify my opinions and I wanted to share my thinking with you.
It could be argued that Cloud computing began with email. Today, almost none of us could survive for long without access to email from wherever we are.
As has become obvious with the explosive growth of Twitter and Facebook, the world is rapidly moving to virtual connections. Rather than meet in an office, we are increasingly meeting on-line. Rather than direct, face-to-face communication, messages are increasingly electronic, remote, and terse.
Whether this is good or bad isn’t the issue. It is clearly where the world is headed.
The only way social media sites like Twitter, FaceBook, and Linked In can function is via the Cloud – where all messages are aggregated on remote servers.
Or, take Google Calendars or Google Docs. These web-based services make it easy for individuals who are widely scattered geographically to work together on a project.
There has to be recognition by vendors providing Cloud storage that the value of the assets stored on their Cloud services are greater than the cost of the access fees they are charging.
If you are unable to meet the delivery date for your movie because your cloud-storage vendor is unable to provide you access to your media, as happened last week with Amazon, the actual damages you suffer are far in excess of the access fees you pay per month to store your data. The vendors lost a few servers, we lose projects, credibility, deadlines, and clients.
In the recent case of Amazon, their offer to provide a refund of ten-days access fees is laughable, considering the total loss of business their crash created. Storage providers, for obvious reasons, are totally unwilling to assume this level of liability. The only way we’ll figure out what constitutes “adequate compensation” is through the courts. Is the value of your media that is stored on a remote server, the cost of the server, the cost to access the server, or the cost to replace the media that was lost?
These are very thorny questions.
REVIEW VENDOR ASSUMPTIONS
Being able to access media assets from the Cloud makes several assumptions which you need to evaluate to determine if they are true for you:
Assumption 1: You are always able to access the Internet at reasonable speeds.
Fallacy: Last week, I was in a smaller-sized city in Wisconsin for several days with no wireless or wired access to the Internet. I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it turned out. Are you always going to be in a place that provides high-speed Internet access?
Assumption 2: There is great convenience in accessing your media from anywhere.
Fallacy: Your ability to access, or upload, media to the Cloud is totally controlled by the speed of your local Internet connection. Each week, I need to transfer 4 GB of data from Point A to Point B. Even files as small as this take several hours, assuming the transfer goes right the first time. Using the Cloud for storing source media provides virtually unlimited storage, which is totally gated by the speed of my local Internet connection.
Assumption 3: Your data is secure in the Cloud.
Fallacy: As Sony made abundantly clear, 77 million people’s data would have been far safer if it were NOT stored on Sony systems. The chances of my personal data getting hacked on my servers is far smaller than if I put my data in a vast pool with everyone else. As Willie Sutton said when asked why he robs banks, “because that’s where the money is.”
Assumption 4: Your data is safe on the Cloud due to redundant systems.
Fallacy: Again, look at Amazon, or Cloud Foundry, or Sidekick/Microsoft. Extremely experienced IT staff, redundant systems, well-capitalized companies; yet each had a total system collapse lasting multiple days resulting in both business and data loss.
As you evaluate what materials to store in the Cloud, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What happens to my business if the files I’m storing in the Cloud get lost?
2. What happens to my business if the files I’m storing in the Cloud get released into the Internet, outside of my control?
3. What happens to my business if I am unable to access the files I’m storing in the Cloud?
4. What compensation will you receive if something goes wrong and is it proportional to the damage you will suffer?
Cheap is not the best option when the files you are risking are so very expensive to create.
THERE IS ROOM FOR HOPE…
There are some interesting experiments in Cloud-based computing that I am following with interest.
For me, the power of the Cloud lies in sharing information easily between partners, while the data remains safely stored locally.
Scenios is one. They provide “Cloud-based software that helps you manage your productions more effectively… and more profitably.”
DropBox is another. Here you are using the power of the Cloud to transfer files, but not permanently store files. While you can, leaving files stored in your Dropbox, this exposes you to the same risks of data loss or data breach that I was talking about earlier.
I’m interested in hearing about other Cloud-based services that you are pleased with. Share your comments with the rest of us.
Ultimately, most of our file storage will be Cloud-based. But, for those of us storing massively large files that are very difficult to replace, take the time to ask yourself these four questions and make sure you understand the answers.
My key point is to be skeptical of all the marketing claims and keep in mind that it is rarely a good idea to get lost in a Cloud.
Let me know what you think.
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