Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Cloud: A Follow-up Posting on Where We Are

In 2011, I wrote this article regarding my interpretation on where "Cloud" fits in, with regards to both software development and at the consumer level.
3 years on, I wonder if any of it still holds water; if it does then surely there is a problem?

My thoughts on this were recently re-invigorated following a pod-cast from GinxTV, where Simon Longden (@SimonLongden) commented very similar concerns to my original article, in relation to the sizes of games and the consumers ability to download them.

Capability and Consumption
A brief and simplistic time-line of networking speeds could be expressed as follows:
The BBC always use images like this when they talk about
the inter-web

  • 1990: 10base-T, 10Mb/s, bi-directional
  • 1995: 100base-T, 100Mb/s, bi-directional
  • 1999: 1000base-T, 1Gb/s, bi-directional
  • 2005: 10Mb broadband, speed is asynchronous (in region of 256Kb - 512Kb upload)
  • 2010: 100Mb broadband, speed is asynchronous (slight improvements; up to 3Mb upload)
  • 2014: 150Mb broadband, asynchronous (12Mb upload)

Note: It is true that synchronous broadband services are available and have been for a while, but they are generally not within the financial grasp of the average consumer.

While our consumer download speeds have increased, broadband as a whole doesn't seem to have changed in line with the way the internet (yes that's right, I said INTERNET, not cloud...) is now being sold to us:

  • on-line backups
  • media streaming of our personal libraries to our remote locations
  • "broadcast yourself" services (youtube, vimeo etc)
  • remote printing
  • real-time data such as virtual office environments (desktop sharing, VOIP etc) 
  • many others

I want to look at a couple that are close to my heart and see if they are as feasible now, with what we have available, as the download culture was[n't] in 2011.

Public Cloud / On-line Backups
These solutions (the likes of drop-box, sky drive, Google... to name a few) are everywhere, are accessible anywhere and they serve at the speed you can download, but how many of them are offering a service that can actually mirror all of the data you hold precious?
A NAS will typically be able to hold 2TB+.  Between 2 people (we are relatively conservative with disk usage), we use almost a quarter of that.  Between a larger user base, or more intensive usage, you're comfortably getting into the realms of needing to cater (locally) for 4TB+.  It is true, there are some vendors that allow for high capacity storage at a cost, some free even, but they are not always located in the UK; are you willing to subscribe to their (another country) data access policies?  Should you find a vendor you are happy with, it will still take a considerable time for your initial upload and you will undoubtedly breach your ISPs "fair usage" for high-volume upload which will in turn extend the time required as they throttle back your already limited speeds.
On top of security, we are at the mercy of their business models; Ubuntu One as case and point - it is a part (all be it optional) of their own operating system and still they have elected to shut down the service, even for paying customers:
"the free storage wars aren’t a sustainable place for us to be, particularly with other services now regularly offering 25GB-50GB free storage"
Ironically, perhaps, the service is being shut down to allow them to concentrate on convergence between tablet, desktop and mobile - if anything needed a central file store... surely that would be it?

Private / Personal Cloud
Who ever coined this needs a slap.
This is generally nothing more than HTTP / FTP access to your NAS or external hard drive, with the added pitfall of it being accessible to others (such as your extended family that you have configured access for) who can also download / stream your pictures,  video and music... which uses your upload which will:

  • be served at a speed that is a fraction of that which the consumer is capable of receiving
  • possibly trip acceptable use clauses on your account because you are uploading huge amounts of data
    • When are you most likely to stream your personal content? When you're not home (mostly at work, listening to your tunes) and therefore more than likely at peak times.
    • When are others likely to stream from you?  When they are at work, maybe, or possibly more likely in the evening and therefore more than likely at peak times.

In Seagates article on what a private cloud is, it states:
"According to Gartner Research, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer by 2014"
I could not find
 a picture of sack-cloth
 pants that I was willing
 to put in this blog...
Taken in the way I believe it is meant to be read, our mobile-based data consumption is going to see the largest year-on-year change yet.  It is here where the first ray of light appears when reviewing my original article and considering it against today; at the point of writing, 3G charges were pretty high but now most service providers offer an "unlimited" tariff.  I switched to one such tariff and ended up paying half the monthly contract rate for a considerably more valuable service.  While speeds are still behind fixed-line broadband, it is at least relative to the device size.

The flip-side to the statement is that if read literally, it is ridiculous... much like a "fashion guru" might state that people will be wearing sack-cloth pants (read as "undewear", if non-UK), a big hat and nothing else next year.  Mobile devices will never fully replace desktops / laptops because simply put, mobile devices are inherently small.  The bigger the form-factor, the more bits you can cram in to make it more powerful / useful and there will always be people who need / want more power, bigger (multiple) screens and greater capacity for connectivity.  You might argue that hosted cloud instances could be streamed to a tablet, answering the power requirement, but to use some poetic license on Jim Malone:
"Just like <tech hype>; brings a <remote virtual instance> to a <LAN match>"
Data Equality
So some things have improved, but we've ended up partially fixing the old problems and neglected to be forward thinking to negate the new problems; the UK consumer broadband infrastructure is download-centric and as a result it is incapable of sustaining a culture of 2-way high-volume data transfer in the way that application developers and service providers want us to use it.

When the importance of consumer-owned data is rated as highly as that of business-owned, then the INTERNET (!) will truly be a blank canvas to inspire and a resource for everyone to consume equally.