By now I am sure everyone is aware of cloud computing, in fact you are possibly using it but do not realise.

Broadly speaking 'cloud computing' can be defined as the storage and/or delivery of computing resources via the internet, the geographical location being irrelevant, or even unknown, to the user.  If you make use of web based email such as Gmail or Hotmail you are using 'the cloud' in it simplest form.  All your emails are stored somewhere and you can access them anywhere you have an internet connection.

The Cloud now allows us to store and easily access our documents, photos, music -- in fact any data we wish.  Moving to the next level, additional cloud services are available; you request some data processing, all the work is done elsewhere and you only get the results returned.

So far so good.  However, there are two major issues!

Firstly, security and privacy.  This is constantly discussed so I do not intend covering it other than provoke some thoughts: who do you trust with your data? Can you be confident your data in the cloud will not fall into the wrong hands? Where is your data?  Can you be sure that your data is actually deleted? What legislative jurisdiction does it fall under?

Moving on to my second issue, and I believe one that is not often discussed  -- speed!

Let's first consider the home user and their needs for cloud computing.  You want to store photographs, documents and music.  All this is possible but the massive stumbling block is getting the data onto the cloud, and specifically how long it takes.

The vast majority of home users are on Broadband (ADSL) connections.   Over the years we have seen 'speeds' increase from 512Kpbs (0.5 Mbps) up to 8, 16 or even 20 Mbps.  This is download (downstream) speed; i.e. how quickly information is downloaded from the internet to you -- the speed page loads or your photo appears from the cloud.  Obviously the converse of this is upload (upstream) speed.

Without delving into the science, upstream speeds are significantly different.  The ADSL installed at your local telephone exchange is designed for fast downstream and slow upstream; the best upstream ADSL speed is around 832Kbps, and typically much lower -- 448Kbps.  If you are lucky some ADSL will run upwards of 1.4Mbps but that is rare.

Putting that into perspective -- a typical 3 Mbyte digital photo will take around 1 minute to upload, but only a second or two to download.

Now let's think bigger and upload the 1,000 photos you have amassed from  a few holidays and nights out.  To upload that to the cloud will take 17 hours of continual uploading!!

Seriously!  Who has time for that?

What about doing a backup of your PC -- lot's of services offer cloud backups.  Let's say you have a paltry 10Gb of data;  2 days to upload; 100Gb is 23 days.

Cable Internet connections are significantly faster because the technology is very different.  Cable upstream speeds are faster but the provider typically limits upstream speeds as we do far less uploading and much more downloading (surfing).  If we assume the Cable company allows a 1.5Mbps upload speed we are still in the region of five hours to upload our photos.

Home users also have added problems -- capping, where your provider places a limit on how much data you can up and download each month.  Let's say is 40Gb a month -- Your uploads will very quickly eat into this!  The other problem is throttling where providers automatically start to slow down the connection of heavy users in order to protect their network; once again a problem!

Let's up-scale to a corporate environment -- as an example, Microsoft want you to store all your corporate emails in the cloud and access all your documents online.  Corporates tend to have much faster internet connections, with dedicated internet lines and identical up & downstream speeds.  The costs will be in tens of thousands but it offers a fast, reliable service to support your business and perhaps many hundreds of users.  So we have very fast internet but we still have the same cloud computing speed issue multiplied by hundreds of users.  To support cloud computing in the corporate you will need internet connectivity at light speed!

Ultimately Cloud computing is a great concept but we will need to be selective on what we store -- until the day you are away from your computer and realise the one thing you need is not actually in the cloud.

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