The Cloud (Whether it's iCloud or just normalCloud)
by, 12th June 2011 at 03:06 PM (22228 Views)
First blog post, but this is a subject I don't feel comfortable butting into other threads with or a forum thread of it's own, It's entirely opinion and as a result, people are free to reply with their own opinions or ignore it
My thoughts on "The Cloud" have always been fairly negative, and it's highly unlikely my opinion will change on it until the UK's internet infrastructure is 1. up to it and 2. when 1. is able to do away with the home computer as a fat client.
I will and do talk about things like VDI, Thin Clients and The Cloud in the same breath, at least where education is concerned. Internal network infrastructures are good enough to allow a decent level of use in an educational environment, so companies such as The Cutter Project can work their magic and provide a low cost, low power, efficient network setup very competitively. I've always had the same argument against it though; I've watched a school buy in thin clients (iDesks), fill up their server racks with enough terminal servers to offset any savings gained from going fat-thin in the short term and then find themselves having to change their own curriculum. Is that a bad thing? I don't know - I work solely in IT and I'm not entirely aware of how curriculums are organised or why some schools use things like video editing a lot and others do not. If a school has a single suite of 30 PCs, then I could fully imagine a half decent Gb network and TS will handle that rather easily. But spread that out to a larger secondary with 6 or 7 suites of 30 PCs - the network structure would have to be something completely different, effectively a TS/Virtual Host per room, trying to keep traffic local rather than global. But here, I really would need to sit down with someone to understand how and what is possible over such a setup. I won't knock it too much until I fully understand it. I know enough to be able to write it off for my own school.
The Cloud though is a slightly different ball game. It's biggest failure is also it's biggest selling point, which is where I really struggle to understand why it's so well received by so many. It relies entirely on your connection to the outside world. A while ago, when working for a certain ICT support provider, I was enraged to be presented with a piece of software called Junior Librarian.NET. It had the same function as it's predecessor, yet entirely hosted by it's developers. Unreliable? Hell yes - for what was effectively a very basic database hosted off site, I'd never seen so many problems - firewalls, fingerprint recognition problems, even barcode reader problems; why on earth would that be an issue, a barcode reader is no more complicated than the keyboard I'm typing this on. Eventually, the school that was trialling it literally gave up and demanded to roll back to Version 3 of the software, entirely run and hosted by the school. Success. Because the .NET version was too Dependant on the external connection. What if the internet wasn't available - there was no library. That made me laugh a little anyway, because in my eyes the Internet is the biggest library in the world and has already replaced physical libraries in some schools, so this post does have a little irony. So, lessons had to be replanned, people were scribbling book barcodes on paper ready to sort out when the internet was back. Yes, you can have problems with your internal network, but that's entirely at your own control.
Then I was introduced to hosted SIMS - a good old friend run over Citrix. So what happens when internet dies there? No MIS. That's always been a big no-no for me, however that has a slightly two-fold problem. Hosted SIMS was a good and cost effective way to deliver an MIS system to a smaller school. Should that ever be the case? Why should it not be made more cost effective to host it on-site? Or even to a cluster of schools?
This brings me nicely to The Cloud as it exists today. Google Docs. Office 365/Live. iCloud. Online document storage has it's inherent problems anyway - someone I have a huge amount of respect for, Mr Grumbledook Esquire, recently posted concerns about the DPA relating to information stored off-site. If something was to go wrong, let's take an example of a child is kidnapped outside a school gate and the evidence already leads to the kidnapper having prior details about this child. Whether it's Facebook or any other means, the Police and other authorities would need to investigate a huge paperwork trail to gather what information is stored where about this child. If the documents are hosted in The Cloud, could you prove they are secure? Not interested in anyone saying "well, it's a secure site/it has SSL or TLS encryption/the little padlock icon is showing in my browser" because all of that is 100% moot if someone knows a single password. I really need to read up on the DPA properly to say much more about it but I do have severe doubts as it stands. This is all of course something entirely on top of "well if the internet connection is lost, we can't get to that data".
So when the authorities are chasing this information up, they need your cooperation as well as the cooperation of your data host.
I'm not going to say too much about iCloud because everyone is already well aware of my thoughts on Apple as a company. I will say that iCloud is too little too late from them, they were late into "the game" and charging money for what is effectively the same thing that Microsoft/Google/God Knows Who Else offer seems a little out of order/typical Apple. I keep reading blogs and website information everywhere that is touting iCloud as something that will effectively mean the end of localised storage. That's something I can't possibly agree with and I'm not sure the people that subscribe to that theory fully understand what is involved.
"It's an idea that will sell well to all the 'normal' computer users who just use Facebook, Email, the odd Flash game and browse the Internet."
Translated into real terms:
"The average person who doesn't game or do anything powerful with their PC would find this an attractive and possibly cost effective solution, however they won't be aware, or told, what happens when their ISP falls over/Lulzsec or Anonymous get bored one day etc. That SHOULDN'T ever have to be the case but there are more and more security risks coming to light every day, IPv6 is one that needs a lot more looking at as a good example."
So, I am rather anti-cloud. Not in total, though - it does have uses. So I guess I am just very anti-Cloud Reliance. I do not like seeing school curriculums reliant on ICT when it's local (Where's your backup lesson plan?) let alone when the system is entirely out of your hands/control. It has a long way to go yet before that is an achievable goal and a lot of it has nothing to do with the cloud providers - its the UK's broadband/network infrastructure, it's the EU and particularly the UK's naive attitude towards internet security and loads more besides.
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