Who's afraid of the big bad cloud?

Who's afraid of the big bad cloud?

Summary: Tech news has been dominated this week by Google's announcements regarding their upcoming Chrome OS. Plenty of geeks are excited; so are plenty of industry insiders and business analysts. You know who aren't excited? Those who say we aren't ready for an OS dependent upon "The Cloud."

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Tech news has been dominated this week by Google's announcements regarding their upcoming Chrome OS. Plenty of geeks are excited at the prospect of a lightweight, user-friendly, Linux-based operating system that, if only on the basis of brand cache, can be a potential Windows competitor in some important sub-markets. Plenty of industry insiders and business analysts are excited at the revenue potential for Google and new levels of competition. You know who aren't excited? Those who say we aren't ready for an OS dependent upon "The Cloud" (dramatic music plays here). These are the same people who regularly stop by my ZDNet Education posts and can't believe my affection for Google Apps or my willingness to use a student information system that's hosted in the cloud. "Why wouldn't you run the system on your own servers? Why would you run mission-critical mail and communications in the cloud? Why would you let your student data sit somewhere else?"

Uhhhh...because my time should be spent on my real business (in my case, integrating technology into education and ensuring that teachers have the data and resources they need to do their own jobs), not running servers when Google can do it infinitely better than I can or when other SaaS vendors can leverage large virtualized data centers to deliver high quality services to me quickly and with minimal intervention on my part.

This isn't just about Google and Chrome, though (although they are very much at the center of this issue). Brian Chen of Wired, is, not surprisingly, talking about the Chrome OS when he asks,

The idea is such: Give up the computing experience you’ve grown accustomed to for over a decade. Come live in Google’s browser.

Why would anyone wish to do that today, tomorrow or even next year when the OS ships?

This is a typical, narrow view of the cloud. Maybe he hasn't noticed, but for those of us who use a smartphone more than a PC or a web browser more than any other software (this includes a lot of people, by the way; trust me - I'm not writing this in Word), we've already given up our turn-of-the-millennium computing experience. Quite happily, I might add.

The cloud, if we choose to use it as such, even allows us to deliver much of that old-school computing experience through application and desktop virtualization. You don't have to use Google Apps to embrace the cloud. IBM's Client for Smart Work can be deployed over the cloud, providing a full desktop experience with a simple piece of client software. Citrix XenApp just needs a browser to deliver whatever desktop applications you need. Obviously, we're not talking AutoCAD or Adobe Premiere here, but desktop productivity is a piece of cake, all within a browser window.

As Virtual Bridges (a maker of light VDI software) puts it,

By making these desktops “virtual”, a user can access the same desktop environment whether they are at home, the office, the road or anywhere where there is a machine connected to the network.

By consolidating these desktop sessions onto centrally-managed servers, users no longer have to self-maintain their desktops or put unnecessary burdens on the Help Desk. This means literally putting your desktops in the data center and allowing access to them securely over the network. Accessing your personal desktop is as easy as accessing a web page.

Obviously, Virtual Bridges has a vested interest in getting businesses to use cloud-based virtual environments. And yet, these are proven technologies dating back to the good old days of VNC (which, not surprisingly, is still around). It's just relatively recent advances in hardware speed, network performance, and software sophistication that have finally allowed really significant scalability and delivery of environments like IBM's Smart Work Client or SIMtone’s Universal Cloud Computing.

Whichever way you head, whether using virtualization in the cloud or using cloud applications and storage like Google Docs and Zoho, cloud detractors need to wake up and smell the Internet. They ask why I would trust my data to the likes of Google or IBM; I ask why I'd entrust sensitive data to a user with a laptop.

Instead of cursing our hyperconnected society, let's leverage all that connectivity. Leave your thumb drives for other interesting pursuits, leave spinning hard drives to be someone else's failures, and use the cloud wherever it makes sense. Don't trust Google? How about IBM or Amazon? For that matter, it isn't all that hard, especially for organizations with substantial IT resources, to host their own clouds.

Who's afraid of the big bad cloud? A lot of people. I however, am not one of them. Seriously...bring it on. I'm more than happy to pay someone to handle my IT administrivia for me so that I can focus on adding real value to my organization. I'll gladly let Google (or whomever) put out my brushfires. I just want to get to work which, in this evolving "creativity economy", does not mean troubleshooting Exchange servers and reimaging desktops.

Topics: Virtualization, Storage, Software, Operating Systems, Open Source, Linux, Hardware, Google, Emerging Tech, Data Centers, Cloud

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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109 comments
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  • Not even hybrid apps?

    Right, got it. You hate everybody who doesn't
    buy your religion, which doesn't even allow for
    hybrid applications.

    "I ask why I?d entrust sensitive data to a user
    with a laptop."

    You're right, companies can't even trust their
    own employees. Heck, let's send everybody home
    and dissolve the whole business. After all,
    nobody in their right minds should trust people
    they actually know and talk to on a regular
    basis.

    I'd trust them a lot more than I'd trust
    Google.

    "we?ve already given up our turn-of-the-
    millennium computing experience"

    Nah. The Internet works, but it's not the best
    experience.

    Seriously - eternally typing URLs, user names,
    passwords, etc - all that is a next-gen user
    experience?

    Trying to organize bookmarks manually, that's
    next-gen?

    Dealing with intrusive ads, that's next-gen?

    Devices becoming virtual bricks when there's no
    connection, that's next-gen?

    Dealing with network latencies, that's next-
    gen?

    Expensive data plans, that's next-gen?

    If all of this is next-gen, I think I'll pass.

    And I really want this question answered
    sometime: What was so [b]BAD[/b] about desktop
    applications anyways? Why do people keep
    insisting they are so horrible? Are the issues
    really unfixable?

    Why insist this is the only route? Why not play
    around with hybrids, or improving the desktop
    experience itself?

    99% of the real problems with the desktop
    experience are issues with current
    implementations. They're not really things that
    are impossible for a desktop application.

    -It's totally possible to update applications
    in a transparent manner. Google's Chrome
    browser does it.

    -It's totally possible to have local
    applications synchronize with each other or an
    online database. Then you get the redundancy
    and other advantages of the cloud [b]and[/b]
    you get offline connectivity.

    Soooo . . . .

    What's so bad about the idea of hybridizing
    online and offline apps, and borrowing the best
    of each?

    Seriously - we spent so much time and resources
    decentralizing our computer systems, so much
    time and resources making computers something
    personal, so much time and resources on
    technologies close to the user - and we want to
    undo all that?

    Why not find a happy medium, a hybrid system,
    perhaps something that even combines the
    benefits of both systems?
    CobraA1
    • You have so much

      personal emotion invested in the status quo that you cannot think straight.

      You start out with a whole bunch of juvenile condescending remarks and end up admitting that what we currently have has problems but pleading that we should fix it instead of moving on. I think we have been trying to fix it for well over a decade.

      Did it ever occur to you that the current set-up is not working well for a large fraction of the users (and IT admins) and that they are looking for something better FOR THEM?

      Recently I dismissed one or more of your replies to my post(s) as not being worthy of a response. The above is why.

      And to those of you who scoff and suggest Chris should lose his job because he has chosen not to run local servers: The progressive visionaries will prevail and the neanderthals, unable to adapt, will become extinct. There may be a seismic shift coming and you are vulnerable. Start planning.
      Economister
      • Explaining everything away as "emotion" makes you right. Got it.

        "You have so much personal emotion invested in
        the status quo that you cannot think straight."

        So that's your refutation? Explain it away as
        emotion?

        "and end up admitting that what we currently
        have has problems but pleading that we should
        fix it instead of moving on."

        Yes, it's so bad to fix things.

        "Moving on" is fine, but throwing away the baby
        with the bath water is not. New solutions
        should not bring back the problems that the old
        solutions already solved.

        "Did it ever occur to you that the current set-
        up is not working well for a large fraction of
        the users (and IT admins) and that they are
        looking for something better FOR THEM?"

        It's not the solution finding I have issues
        with. It's the religion that "the cloud" is a
        silver bullet, capable of fixing everything. As
        if other solutions didn't exist.

        "Recently I dismissed one or more of your
        replies to my post(s) as not being worthy of a
        response. The above is why."

        Because explaining everything away as "emotion"
        makes you right. Got it.

        "The progressive visionaries will prevail and
        the neanderthals, unable to adapt, will become
        extinct. There may be a seismic shift coming
        and you are vulnerable. Start planning."

        Sounds like an emotional appeal to me.
        CobraA1
        • Introspection? (nt)

          nt
          Economister
          • I only want to combine the best of both visions.

            Combining the best of both paradigms is being
            emotional?

            I suppose. It makes me happy when I have the best
            of both worlds.

            I'm not saying stick with the old stuff that
            doesn't work.

            I'm saying combine the old stuff that does work
            with the new stuff that does work.

            Here's my vision:

            -Many years from now, we have a network of devices
            that just work.

            -Online, offline, doesn't matter. They always
            work. The network is available, but not necessary.

            -The data can be anywhere. Not just in Google's
            servers. Not just in a cloud. In the nodes. In the
            devices.

            -The user has complete control. If the user wants
            to share things with other people, the user can.
            If the user wants to use a public provider, the
            user can do that as well. If the user doesn't want
            anybody touching their data (including a public
            provider), they can keep it local. It's up to the
            user where the data is.

            -Synchronizing keeps the data in sync, with or
            without a provider. If Google goes broke, the
            devices still work. The pipe can go through the
            provider, but doesn't have to.

            Peer-to-peer sync is a large part of my vision.
            We've demonstrated it's possible. I say we take
            advantage of it.

            It's not that I don't have a multi-year vision. In
            fact, I do.

            It's just a different vision from yours.

            Maybe I can be a bit emotional at times. But I try
            not to let it cloud my judgement. Sorry if I
            resorted to nitpicking rather than sharing my
            vision. I now realize that was my mistake.

            Yeah, I know there's a "100% cloud" vision out
            there, and it's the most popular vision right now.


            But I think a peer-to-peer vision can also solve
            the problems. Just in a different way.
            CobraA1
          • Good points

            I will probably bow out of this debate, but before I do, I just want to complement you on your last post. You are willing to listen and consider other perspectives as well as reflecting on your own.

            Nobody has all the answers right now. Google would like to dominate the world (as has MS been trying to do somewhat successfully for a long time). There is always a risk associated with that. MS probably has to take some responsibility for where we are, because they have had a very significant influence on the industry, and is primarily looking after themselves. Google will probably ultimately be no different.

            Still, I believe we have to undertake this journey. We do not know exactly where we will end up and at times it may look scary. We can not be afraid however, just be a bit weary of any one entity getting too much control. That is why we have governments and regulators. We must also recognize that there may not be ONE solution, but many solutions to meet different needs. That is what IT is all about, serving the needs of the users/humanity and making us all better off in many different ways.

            Please continue to participate in the discussions, but try to listen, learn and think before you respond. This is not just directed at you, but A LOT of posters here, including me at times. I am not perfect. This forum too often turns into a shouting match where everybody is yelling and nobody is listening. One of the most offending items I see is "LOL". It is used mostly, not to indicate that something was humorous, but instead to ridicule another poster. That does not move the debate forward and makes the other poster retaliate.

            At the end of the day, we can all learn a bit from each other, and that is what this forum should be used for IMHO - an enjoyable and rewarding place to go to share experiences, views and opinions with others, in a positive and respectful manner.
            Economister
    • I agree

      If client side apps are so bad/full of holes/etc, what makes people think they'll be any better on a server.


      If anything, that gives me a hole into your information :)
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Who's afraid of the big bad cloud?

        @NStalnecker

        It's a lot easier to patch one machine that everyone shares, than to patch hundreds or thousands. Who can say the patches even get applied correctly to all machine. Just one example.
        farmers1
    • You seem ill-informed

      "Right, got it. You hate everybody who doesn't
      buy your religion, which doesn't even allow for
      hybrid applications."

      He said nothing against that.

      "Nah. The Internet works, but it's not the best
      experience."
      I agree, but it's evolving (for the better)
      faster than anyone can follow

      "Seriously - eternally typing URLs, user names,
      passwords, etc - all that is a next-gen user
      experience?"
      All of this is dissapearing. And since e're
      talking about Chrome OS, that's EXACTLY what
      it's doing

      "Trying to organize bookmarks manually, that's
      next-gen?"
      What about organising folders manually on your
      desktop?

      "Dealing with intrusive ads, that's next-gen?"
      There are no adds on google Docs, and no
      INTRUSIVE one in <i>any</i> of the Google
      services.

      "Devices becoming virtual bricks when there's no
      connection, that's next-gen?"
      You're falling behind, and you might want to do
      some research. Do you know about Google Gears?

      "Dealing with network latencies, that's next-
      gen?"
      That, again, depends on here you are. For
      somepeople, that isn't a problem at all. For the
      others, it won't be long.

      "Expensive data plans, that's next-gen?"
      You're talking about Google Docs, right?


      I agree ith you for the rest, but here's a
      little thought. ould it not be better to build
      Cloud apps and bring them to the desktop? That
      way, we can look at things from a completely new
      eye, and we might work around the limitations of
      our current software. Google is doing that with
      Gears. It'implementation on Gmail is great.
      FanaticGeek
  • RE: Who's afraid of the big bad cloud?

    with broadband prices and caps the way they are this is a recipe for disaster. I would much rather use the cloud to backup things but always have a local copy for myself.
    ultramo
  • RE: Who's afraid of the big bad cloud?

    whether or not you believe in Cloud the big vendors need to pay attention, because as I discussed here (bit.ly/4gZSr9) customers have enough reasons to be fed up with the status quo. Cloud is an obvious and quick way for customers to voice that dissatisfaction.
    CairbreUK
  • If google can...

    run servers better than you you need to find a new job. I think you are just lazy and are looking for an easy way out. Instead of doing what you were hired for - IT.

    Any unskilled high school student can assist the faculty in signing up to use Google. They can even show them how to use it. Why should the school system even pay for someone to do what you are doing. They are wasting their money. They need to let you go and hire some unskilled, or more unskilled, person just to help the faculty sign up for Google. They certainly do not need a skilled IT person to do what you do.
    bjbrock
    • re:If google can...

      ... make his job easier, why not? Hence he just had a newborn.

      Maybe you are not at this stage yet.

      PS. I'm sure he rather baby-sit his newborn than some old <a href="http://www.joe-ks.com/archives_sep2004/WindowsBoot.jpg" target="_blank">MS Exchange servers</a>.

      ^o^
      <br>
      n0neXn0ne
    • Well, for sure, it is getting a lot easier to run a school's IT,

      and, school districts will need fewer people to
      maintain it all without their own servers.

      In the future, all computers will be ChromeOS or
      similar, thus eliminating all the PC maintenance. For the switchover, you connect to
      a server for Legacy Win32 applications that run
      in a terminal window.

      Life will get a lot simpler.
      DonnieBoy
      • I seriouslly doubt that

        Unfortuneatelly, ChromOS won't be that big a splash.

        Sure, it'll cut into (and maybe bankraupt) other companies that have their own Linux distros like Ubuntu or whatever, but too many people can't rely on Google to be there all the time.

        More and more people don't trust Google and what they've become, and with the data leaks of personal info and the like, it gets worse everyday.

        Maybe one day all thing will live in the cloud (or something similar) but we are way too far away from that day right now.

        Security and availability have to be damn near perfect for that to happen, something even Googles hasn't mastered.
        John Zern
        • I agree.

          I think linux will gain some serious marketshare from this, but not in the way I would hope, I believe we need a new generation of distro, one that uses bash, but no X11 or cron, no EXTFS, even though I do like it, it is not really that popular. Unfortunately, Google is going about it wrong, we are not ready to give up on our own data, not everyone is online all the time, and people like my grandmother who uses her PC but cannot afford internet will be screwed. We do need a new geneeration of distro, even though linux is more stable, and in my opinion, more useful than windows, it is not perfect, and the base is getting old, keep the kernel, trash the current root FS layout...
          Subsentient
        • Actually, it will take market share from mostly Windows. I will not use it

          for instance, because I need to use a compiler,
          run a test web server and database, etc.

          The schools will be able to can the greasy Windows
          stooges.
          DonnieBoy
          • Thank you Donnie

            For calling almost everyone who maintains a network on here "Greasy Stooges". I think I hear your Mom calling you now....
            The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • Man, do not insult the ZDNet readers, I would imagine that a small minority

            are greasy Windows stooges. The rest are
            professionals that use OSes that are actually
            stable and secure.
            DonnieBoy
          • So I run a Windows network

            and guess what: it's stable and secure to a fault, so that would mean you're calling me a "greasy Windows stooge"?

            How old are you, anyhow? And exactlly [i]what[/i] college or university did you receive your training at for network administration?

            What is the size of the company you're at, and are you the the administrator there?

            I'm bing totally serious here, DB, you're so quick to insult [i]anyone[/i] who disagrees with your choice of server/desktop OS's, please enlighten us to [i]who[/i] DonnieBoy really is.
            AllKnowingAllSeeing