So, cloud and making it personal – what does this actually mean?

Personal clouds are a bit of a quandary and I believe are a bit misunderstood. You will see many companies advertising data storage, backup and accessibility products that offer you, the consumer, a personal cloud. Free storage and backup of data on the cloud that’s accessible anywhere to home personal cloud based solutions are available form pretty much any large vendor today.

With the massive amount of data that we all use and generate (email, word processing, pictures, movies), we have to store them somewhere. Increasingly we are turning to free services, often marketed to us as our own personal cloud. In my book, if something is free it has little or no value so if something has no value then why would you put something you value onto it? Good question.

Is it a misconception that everything is secure in the Digital Age. Just ask Sony. Why on earth would anyone, let alone someone in the public eye, place very personal pictures or information about themselves on a service that could potentially be viewed by millions if the incorrect security has been applied? A clicked check box at the end of 30-page disclaimer that no one ever reads is hardly a demonstration of great security.

So, in my mind there are two issues:

1. There is a basic lack of understanding around the technology that supports a personal cloud service. The notion that “everything is covered and it will never happen to me” is all too prevalent.

2. Little common sense is in evidence when people all too eagerly place pictures and movies of themselves on a free public service. Should it ever be breached the public disclosure could be very damaging.

Maybe I am being overly cynical but this is the case with mainstream cloud technology understanding. We have a price war going on at the moment. Amazon, Google and Microsoft (and others) are competing against each other with continual price reductions to entice users and grow business.

Let’s face it, nobody can reduce the cost of sales continually and make a profit without compensating for losses somewhere else. Now, I’m not saying that the previous companies mentioned have done this, what I am saying is that it’s an old sales tactic to have loss leaders to gain market share to sell them something else. All three of these companies sell other services and products – make sense? We should view the personal cloud in the right context: its personal.

Take Facebook as an example. You could say that this is personal cloud of sorts as there is information totally personal to you stored there for you to share amongst your circle of friends. Anyone with access can view those pictures and messages. That is the whole point of cloud technology, to share collaboratively. But do you trust Facebook? Access is defined by permissions and robust security – we hope. Because your data is online there is an opportunity, however remote that someone outside of your circle can share your personal data stored there.

Isn’t it ironic that since the Apple security breach a week or two back both Amazon and Google have announced that they are stepping up their security policies. Why do we wait for an issue to happen before we start working on preventative measures?

With the continual advancement of technology and our perceptions of what it can do for us, there are bound to be a misalignment of expectations to reality. I would like to use the analogy of a Hybrid Cloud model. What is Hybrid I hear you ask? Good question and if you asked 5 people you would get different. The Types of Cloud have been evolving to suit business needs and this has never been more apparent with the emergence of the term Hybrid cloud computing.

We seemingly understand Private and Public clouds, but Hybrid? Hybrid is a term that has been defined as a mix of private and public services based at your location(s). Hybrid clouds are already in use by many businesses. Maybe you backup your data to another location? Maybe you have applications delivered to over the Internet (often referred to as SaaS or Software-as-a-Service). Hybrid is a broad term that encompasses so much of what cloud has to offer.

Confusion is rife with cloud technology in general. As a technologist I take this for granted sometimes and I love to get different perspectives on the subject from others outside the industry. I can definitely say that after traveling all around the world for my job, for pleasure and sometimes just for the hell of it, there is a major misunderstanding of cloud technologies by the general population.

As we advance with our ever increasing computing power our expectation exceeds the reality of what technology can do. Automation and the aggregation of data, Big Data, have improved but our clouds don’t think for us yet. Common sense requires an abstract reasoning that cloud computing cannot yet apply to data.

The cloud cannot think or make the kind of personal decisions we would make individually. Technology can only analyse and predict outcomes based on previous history. Even today, could a super computer like the IBM Watson be able to tell you when your naked selfies were on a storage system with poor security levels in place? Maybe the answer should be “are you crazy to store those pictures online in the first place?”

As technology becomes more advanced, so do the challenges of understanding it. Providers are businesses and their common sense isn’t necessarily yours.

Do we need to understand the modern technology that surrounds us or simply have blind faith in the providers that supply our personal cloud services? At the end of the day it is your choice in how you utilise cloud technologies. But you might want to consider being a little more educated on the risks that come with these, often free, commodity cloud services. Don’t just focus on the benefits.

Neil Cattermull, Director of Cloud Practice, Compare the Cloud

Neil's focus is on developing cloud technology and big data. You can often find him advising CXOs on cloud strategy.

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