Sunday, September 09, 2012

Why I hate the cloud!

Well actually, I don't hate the cloud, I hate the use of the term. Just like the title of this article, the phrase 'cloud' is now being used as a marketing tool to get your attention. 

From as far back as I can remember, the internet has been represented as a cloud in network diagrams. The cloud metaphor seems appropriate as the internet is a mish-mash of networks and links which all inter-connect with each other; constructing this redundant hive or cloud like structure.

Humans and technology are evolving faster and faster, each egging the other along. One driver of technology is our perception of we will use and interact with it; rather than actual changes in technology itself.

Here's a little look back in time. Along time ago in this very same galaxy, computer systems comprised of these massive mainframes (which still exist) with 'dumb' terminals connected to them. All the processing was done in these massive building sized mainframes and the terminals were 'interfaces' to them. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the pioneers in a time when processing power was miniaturising and being packaged up into devices that we came to know as desktops; with the help of their vision soon desktops were a common sight in many houses.

In the beginning desktops were isolated units with data transfer most commonly performed through 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" floppy disks, SyQuest drives, Zip and Jazz disks; to name a few. Looking back it seems ridiculous and generations who never lived through it would understandably find it hard to comprehend.

With the expansion and normalisation of the internet, these desktops are now connected and massive volumes of data transfer doesn't register in most peoples concious. TV Shows and Movies streamed over the internet is becoming more common than hiring them from a video store.

Most work places (and homes) would now have a LAN (Local Area Network) or internal network, with servers, workstations and of course an internet connection. Business operations happen securely on these networks and communications like email traverse from the internet to the internal network.

Applications and how we store our data over the years has moved from centralisation on a mainframe, to being run directly from our desktops with data stored on a network drive and now we are looking at these two stages in evolution merging into a hybrid.

Web sites are now the locations where we store and present information to the world; goodbye Encyclopaedias as we new them. Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo and others of the like are internet based email services. Google and Bing are internet search engines. All of these are 'Cloud' based services and they have been this way now for over a decade.

The cloud or internet, is a wilderness with any number of people connected from anywhere on the planet with any purpose in mind. Like locks on our houses and trust pacts between the members of our social groups; we are building our own secure networks or clouds that exist on the internet; clouds in the cloud, dare I say it.

Often, I'm asked why don't we just put it in the cloud? we should use the cloud!

This is one of the most non-sensicle thing I hear every day. Do we have a Web site? Where do you think that sits? On the internet. Do we have an intranet site? Where does that sit? On our internal network. We have been and are utilising cloud based services all the time. As a hosting company we are a Cloud provider!

Our current evolution of perception is bringing us around to accept applications do not have to run directly from the device we are using, but they can be supplied over a network connection.

I find it a little ironic that we have come full circle and are moving back to a system where applications and complicated processing is being hosted on powerful servers and the interfaces are merely being presented on terminal like devices (albeit thousands of times more powerful than the original desktops).

This can scale in use and power, from having a desktop in our home that we remote control from a tablet which provides our in home AV experience. To a server in an office environment which provides a virtualised 'Microsoft Word' application on your desktop and massive server arrays which can be rented out per minute and used to render movies.

And where to now for the human race? With open minds we will find new and innovative ways to use our technology. But the one thing we need to keep in mind is security and privacy. The one thing I commonly see is a lack of understanding exactly what the implications are of our use of technology.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

For what it's worth, my view on where tech is heading.

A couple of years back when I had the epiphany that I was no longer tied down to a PC as the centre of my personal technology and device network, it was a major paradigm shift.

No longer did I have to connect my phone, palm or fridge to my computer to keep my contacts and calendar in sync. Google Apps, which I had chosen to use, provided a free for 'home' users system to centralise and synchronise my data.

Yes, Exchange and RIM (Blackberry) etc had provided various aspects of this, but their services were mainly aimed at business users and in my opinion, at that stage, their offerings were still fragmented often required some form of physical connectivity to get all of my devices sync'd.

Up until then, avoiding duplicate entries was near on impossible without some third party tool or carefully thought out planning. And let's face it, none of us want to have to think about what's going on in the back ground, it just needs to work.

I have been reading articles and hearing comentaries recently with everyone talking about the cloud, apps, tablets, the end of the PC, i this and i that... I think that everyone is right, partially.

I think the most important feature for future technology is going to be interoperability.

No longer are we going to invest thousands of dollars in a piece of technology like a Desktop Computer that is our primary technological device that we interact with. We won't be buying one phone or tablet, we'll have a small phone for going out and a larger phone for everyday use; different sized tablets have their own benefits.

Technology is becoming more portable and disposable. We are going to expect to be able to pick up a friends tablet or phone and have our own personalised environment available. We will have multiple phones for different occaisions and it's not unreasonable to expect that we receive calls to our phone number on any of them; not to mention having the most up to date contacts details on each; We'll even have different versions of our personal spaces available at different times on the same piece of hardware; Our work profile on the tablet could be a lot different to the personal profile.

I just read this article on mashable stating how Windows 8 will not save the PC Industry (whose sales are falling) and how this could be a sign of the diminishing influence of Microsoft. They do go on to say that when the sales of Tablets and other devices are taken into account the IT industry is growing. This is the evolution of technology and it appears that Microsoft has seen this and is bringing consistency to any device that will be running their operating system.

Now I would say I'm open to all hardware and operating systems, I just want interoperability between everything that I use.

As a Systems Administrator or what ever it is that I really do, I have to design and provide a secure environment for our Company that the staff work in. The two biggest pains in my butt currenty are BYOD's (Bring Your Own Devices) which are owned (and understandably managed) by staff and OS X. Both introduce environments that are difficult to control using something like Active Directory.

Virtual applications running over the network from a server are already in use, internet (or cloud if you like buzz words) based services run through web browsers are also readily available and have penetrated our lives.

I see the amalgamation of our profiles and applications made available over the network and able to run on any device. Similar to the virtual machines people use to run Windows on Apple hardware (for example), but without being tied to and run from any particular operating system.

In the corporate environment, a profile or space can be provided for use by staff, with access to anything they need to perform their job. This space could be secure and isolated from the device that is accessing it.

Our information and how we use it needs to be released from the grip of any particular system. We need the portability; this is how our lifestyle, use and expectation of technology is evolving.