Mobile data in the cloud? Not me - it's just too patchy

All our strides with the technology to put mobile data in the cloud are still being tripped up by some obvious failings.

Even though we have the technology to make cloud storage viable for mobile users, we don't have the bandwidth and connectivity universally available. Photo: Shutterstock

Written in a coffee shop in Brussels and dispatched to TechRepublic via a free 6Mbps wi-fi link.

For decades I had hard drives than I could not possibly fill, so deleting files seem wholly unnecessary. But now I have a thinner client, and one foot in the cloud. As a result, the big challenge is being tidy instead of profligate.

In 1984, I migrated from a mainframe to a Mac SE with an 8MHz Clock, 256kB of RAM and a 20MB hard drive. The GUI was a revelation and I produced my first document within 20 minutes without instruction. At the time, the speed seemed fast, the hard drive vast, and the potential infinite.

Needless to say I never looked back, as year on year I upgraded to bigger and better machines. I always bought hard drives that were far larger than I needed, and copied over everything on each transition and almost never deleted anything.

By 2011, I had a 1TB drive and a growing portion of my materials in the cloud. But then, without warning, I suffered a partial machine failure on the road in South America.

A hotel air-conditioning unit failed and poured water into my laptop, so I made the decision to edge further into the cloud with a smaller, lighter, less powerful machine.

At this point, the transition from a 1TB hard drive to 256GB solid-state storage was a bit of a challenge. So I bought a few software tools and started searching my data for duplicate files, old copies, and backups.

This process was quite an experience because I had never considered just how much duplication there might be on my system. In short order I was able to get my data down to 350GB.

Next I applied a simple criterion: all files more than 10 years old should be shifted to an external server. Suddenly, I had content demanding a mere 210GB. I was on a roll and started another phase of my hybrid life by migrating into the cloud by degree.

Image: Peter Cochrane/TechRepublic

Now my number one problem is bandwidth and connectivity. These two resources are not universally available and do not always work well.

The global average speed is estimated to be less than 8.5Mbps download with 300kps or so upload. So I dare not put everything in the cloud because I have to be operational on trains, planes, ships, in cars and hotels - no matter where on the planet. I therefore have all my apps and current and relevant historical content on the one laptop.

Because of the nature of my work and the need for mathematical modelling, I also need significant amounts of computational power and I just cannot rely on an umbilical to online resources.

All these factors have put me into in a continual process of content management, whereby I'm constantly offloading material to the cloud.

In my mainframe days, I limited storage on the machine to between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the total capacity available. Today, I feel nervous about exceeding 90 per cent. In fact I have actually set an upper limit at 80 per cent to give space for operational overruns.

My experience so far is that all this arrangement works well, but like any halfway house it is expensive in my time. The tools available don't fully automate the process and the cloud still remains an ambition rather than a ubiquitous reality for mobile users.

Those who argue that we don't need bidirectional bandwidth should try working, real time, on a modest 300MB online document.

We have the technology and the need, but we certainly don't have the networks for full cloud working, and my hybrid world looks like it will continue for some time.