When I was a lad, most people thought they knew what had happened to the Neanderthals — they got wiped out by their more sophisticated cousins the Cro-Magnons, otherwise known as our ancestors, early Homo sapiens. Theories of possible interbreeding between the two were wacky, fringe stuff.
Then, just a few years ago, that all changed. Massive advances in genomic science allowed researchers to sequence Neanderthal DNA and discover that, outside Sub-Saharan Africa, modern humans share as much as 4% of their DNA with Neanderthals. They didn’t disappear after all — we are them, or at least a bit of us is them.
Claims of the “death of the cloud” are likely to follow a similar path. Yes, public trust in the cloud has been badly damaged by the NSA Prism scandal, and having finally persuaded corporates to trust it too, the cloud industry has signally failed to deliver in many cases.
But that doesn’t mean the cloud is going away. Instead, like so many other technologies that once had entire industries built around them, it will become a given — an expected component of pretty much any large system.
It is already evident on smartphones. Pretty much any modern app with a data backup capability includes a feature to send those backups to Dropbox, Google Drive, or wherever. Indeed, on Windows phones it seems that Skydrive is the default storage location for most apps.
It is coming on the desktop too. More and more applications can sync their settings to a remote server, and of course any desktop SaaS-type application used via a web browser will store its data in the cloud by default.
This all makes life a lot easier for users, planners, and finance departments. There is less storage hardware to buy and manage, it shifts capital expenditure to the operational budget, ensures that data is saved even when devices are lost or broken, and so on. However, it does not mean the need for oversight goes away.
Left unmanaged, these services could still be feeding your data into a Government spy agency’s servers — and the inboxes of anyone with access to those servers. They could also spell serious regulatory compliance problems for companies in many industries, including finance and healthcare.
And more prosaically, it is not going to help your business if its data is now siloed across a dozen different online repositories — sure, you don’t have to host or manage that data yourself, but how are you going to get value out of it if you can’t correlate it? Having to pull it all back into a separate Big Data store does rather undermine the benefits.
The problem is that, scary though it may be, we are heading into a world where it will be hard — if not impossible — to escape the cloud. We may not think of it as such — how many home users think of their Hotmail, Gmail, or Yahoo accounts as being part of “the cloud”? — but it will be everywhere.
At the very least, we must manage the risks. That might mean choosing your hosting companies more carefully, it means keeping track of who in your organization is storing what and where, and it certainly should mean encrypting anything sensitive.