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Peter Cochrane's Blog: The cloud cometh

Whether you like it or not

Compiled in my home office on the first day of Spring and dispatched to silicon.com via wi-fi from BT Labs at Martlesham Heath, UK

The technical literature is currently ringing with cries of: 'I want to know where my bits are - and what about the increased security risk?'

As well as: 'I don't want anyone else's data on my hard drive!'

Strong statements indeed but they reflect a lack of understanding that is worrisome.

'Where are my bits? Where are your bits?' We don't have a clue!

All our data - banking details, credit card activity, passport driving licence, national insurance, tax, medical records and so on - is stored somewhere but we don't know where. And to think that in each case they are all on one isolated drive or drive set, or in a single physical location is naive in the extreme.

Actually I hope my bits are spread all over the planet on multiple drives backed up in multiple physical locations. I'd be really upset if they were on just one drive in one location, even if they were backed up. Such a scenario would be inherently unreliable and insecure in the extreme.

How come? Context! If I steal an email, or any document, it will most likely only give me a glimpse of the full picture. To get to the real meat I need the entire hard drive or document trail. It really is as easy as that.

Like it or not cloud computing has been with us for some time, and it is just going to grow. And as it does our data will become safer and more secure as it becomes increasingly dispersed. And yet I hear sensible people demanding that their in-company data has to be held on a company server on company soil, always to be under the company eye and control.

Why do people think this way? Surely it can't be mass paranoia. Perhaps it is more about the desire to exert control. The reality is that none of us can control our own data, let alone that of our company, simply because the internet, servers and companies are leaky buckets with data seeping out all the time.

The real problem is one of trust and reputation.

In order to achieve reliability, resilience and security, it is vital to spread data across the internet in a part-contiguous and part-parsed format. The conundrum is, do we do it ourselves, or do we let others do it for us? I prefer the latter course, through a trusted intermediary or service company.

Just as I don't make pencils or automobiles, I don't build, install and maintain email and web servers. Instead I I rent space from reputable service providers! To me this is no different than keeping my money in a bank instead of under my mattress, or using a credit card instead of cash. It is all about resource management - allowing service industries to organise atoms and bits on our behalf.

Regardless of how comfortable people are with all of this, the cloud is coming. And it offers great advantages, including cost savings, for those who rise to the challenge of change.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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