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I've been following the recent story of how Microsoft's Danger division and the T-Mobile Sidekick. If you don't know much about Danger, it's basically a cloud service tied to a hardware device (the Sidekick). All the data is stored in the cloud (email, contacts, etc.) and cached on the device so that when the device resets, it starts up empty and reloads its data from the cloud. Unfortunately, many customers found out recently that when they reset their device, all their data was gone. Poof. No more contacts, no more calendar entries, no more emails. It turned out they didn't have any real backups and their data redundancy was foiled by human error. Whoops. While they have recovered most of people's data now, there are some important lessons to be learned from it.
One of the articles I read on this was titled Don't Blame Cloud Computing for the T-Mobile Mess. While the author's heart is in the right place (he really likes cloud computing), I can't agree: Cloud computing is absolutely to blame for this fiasco.
Let me explain by starting with an analogy. Recently we had a little event that some people call the "great market crash of 2008". The root cause of this is pretty well known now: A lack of transparency into different financial instruments (e.g. CDOs) made it impossible to accurately assess risk. And, in the absence of an accurate risk assessment, people assume things will be ok and focus on their short term gain.
It seems to me that we have the exact same situation with cloud computing. There's essentially no transparency into any cloud provider's integration infrastructure, processes, or planning. As a result no user can accurately assess the risk of using one cloud provider over another. Do you think that if sidekick users had know "Danger doesn't do backups" they would have trusted the service with their data? Of course not, most users assumed everything was OK. They assume their cloud provider is doing the right thing. It was only a matter of time before a crash would happen (and this won't be the last one). In the immortal words of Otter from Animal House, "You f*cked up - you trusted us".
Cloud providers, unfortunately, think that it's not in their best interest to be transparent because, frankly, customers are conditioned to just assume everything is OK so why rock the boat. When was the last time you walked into a grocery store to buy apples and said, "Can you cut this one open so I can see whether it's OK on the inside?" No, you probably look at the shiny skin of the apple and assume everything is OK with the inside.
Before cloud computing can become mainstream, users of cloud services must have the ability to accurately assess risk for themselves. In order to do this, cloud providers must provide transparency. if not users must demand it by speaking with their wallets. Don't let the cool, shiny UI fool you into assuming everything is OK under the skin.
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