Scattered clouds: Why I don’t trust other people with my data

It’s the Next Big Thing. Any vaguely IT-related person just has to say something like “computing is moving to the cloud” and everyone nods their heads wisely. And so it is with Office 2013. I’ve been using the Public preview of Office since it appeared two weeks ago, and I have to say I like it; and I also like the much more straightforward integration with Skydrive and Sharepoint. But there’s still no way I’m going to change my default habit of local saving and working to using the Cloud as my primary storage. And here’s why.

There are several aspects to this, and the first two are most revealing of the way in which people sitting in Redmond, Wash., Cupertino, Calif., or most other major corporations live in a different world from the rest of the population of this little blue planet of ours.

Top of the list are power -- meaning electricity, availability, reliability and security. I live and work in a town about 40 miles from London -- not exactly in the wildernesses of a developing country -- but (for local reasons, and that’s exactly the point) we still experience a handful of power cuts every year. Some of them are only momentary, usually just long enough to restart any computers, but a few winters ago, we had one which lasted several days.

Then there’s availability of the connection to the Internet. I’ve personally been mostly lucky in this respect, but there have been network outages of hours from major suppliers in this and other European countries -- not often, but they happen. Apart from that, there’s the type of connection available. A village three miles from where I sit has only just been upgraded to ADSL, having had to use dial-up connections until a few weeks ago. Dial-up and cloud computing don’t really go together. “The mobile Internet”, I hear you cry. But we all know how patchy that can be, even in city center. My house gets no 3G signal from two of the five mobile providers in the United Kingdom (and a really good signal only from one).

Naturally, if you work in a large, communications-centric corporation, with multiple sources of power and multiple connections to the Internet, if you travel only to similar places and if you only ever leave your country to visit Mr. Sheraton, or Mr. Hilton, then you are going to have a slightly partial notion of how most people live. It’s not your fault. Just don’t use your own experience as a basis for prophesying the worldwide end of local storage.

Thirdly, there’s security in terms of availability of the Cloud service itself, really meaning reliability. With major and high-profile outages in the past 12 months of Azure, Hotmail, Skydrive, Twitter, Amazon Web Services -- do I need to go on?

Fourthly, there’s the obvious one of security of access. Do I trust my data with these people, even if nothing goes wrong? How easy is it for someone to hack my account (assuming I don’t help them by succumbing to phishing)? What country’s laws have jurisdiction over my data stored in their datacenters? Are providers going to hand all my data to anyone with a government pension plan from any country who might ask for it?

I love cloud services, but I use them sparingly, as an additional temporary backup for files that I’m working on, especially when I’m travelling, and for sharing files with others. But I don’t see that I’m ever going to be comfortable working primarily off remote computers, rather than my own local machine, whether it’s a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or something else. At least if power cuts don’t go on too long you can continue working on a laptop with battery power when your files are stored locally.

I’m not at all against cloud computing. In the right circumstances it can create possibilities and solve problems in really positive ways. I’d just like to offer a corrective to uncritical acceptance of sales talk and group-think. Step back and think about what’s best for what you want to do.

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