Woz says the cloud sucks — but does it really?

Woz says the cloud sucks — but does it really?

Summary: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's unhappy cloud experiences as an individual have coloured his views. Yet it's worth thinking about his complaints from an enterprise perspective.


Steve Wozniak's blog about why the cloud sucks has attracted a lot of attention — and he makes a good core point about regulation. Although he mainly talks about cloud from a personal perspective, what he says is also interesting from an enterprise perspective.

Woz's main point is that: "I've come to a depressed state of feeling that I own nothing on the cloud and have no ability to keep things working the way they do." Elaborating, he says that cloud services operators can and do change and drop features without so much as a by-your-leave.

Because his cloud-based calendar could be messed about with, he issued his siren call for regulation of cloud providers.

"I believe that regulation applies to banks and that money lost due to no fault of your own is replaced, at least for large amounts. Why not for the cloud, as well?"

He has a point. Cloud providers are perhaps less likely to chop and change their service offerings to enterprises, where much more money is at stake and where continuity is probably the highest currency, but cloud provision is always going to be a movable feast.

Technology changes fast and services will inevitably reflect changes in the infrastructure, as cloud providers find it becomes less cost effective to deliver a service using older processes and technologies. This situation will change and, in this, I'm a bit more bullish than Woz, who says that he "expect[s] this sort of occurrence to get worse over time".

Tend to monopoly

That's because markets tend to monopoly. The companies at the top get fatter and will retain bigger reserves to handle technology shifts, delivering new services enabled by new technology while keeping older services going in the cause of continuity.

Larger enterprises also have more options. They can choose to host all or some of those services themselves in private clouds, retaining complete control over the infrastructure and the pace of change. Enterprises are also more knowledgeable, and more likely to do due diligence before opening their wallets.

All that said, though, I think there's a place for regulation in the cloud, especially for personal use. People are encouraged to use cloud as an alternative to storing stuff in their homes or wherever. The demand is in part a consequence of the burgeoning number of devices we use and carry about. You want that data available everywhere, irrespective of hardware platform.

Safety net

Given that much of that data is likely to be highly sensitive, and that cloud use has moved outside geekery and is now being pushed at the less technologically knowledgeable, a form of safety net seems increasingly appropriate.

It's analogous to the early days of telecommunications. Whether it's data protection in the form of encryption, whether it's a commitment to ensuring that certain safeguards are applied to personal cloud-based data, whether it's a guarantee that people can retrieve their data at any time and in a format that allows them to use it and move it to another provider, cloud providers should be held to account.

The banks touted market forces and self-regulation as the best protection for customers. Not so. The same applies to cloud providers.

Topics: Cloud, Apple, Enterprise Software

Manek Dubash

About Manek Dubash

Editor, journalist, analyst, presenter and blogger.

As well as blogging and writing news & features here on ZDNet, I work as a cloud analyst with STL Partners, and write for a number of other news and feature sites.

I also provide research and analysis services, video and audio production, white papers, event photography, voiceovers, event moderation, you name it...

Back story
An IT journalist for 25+ years, I worked for Ziff-Davis UK for almost 10 years on PC Magazine, reaching editor-in-chief. Before that, I worked for a number of other business & technology publications and was published in national and international titles.

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  • ... contracts and penalties

    Given that the incumbents are convicted and unethical monopolists ... and about as likely to relinquish their revenue streams as the music industry ... I want:

    - a contract specifying cost reductions in line with technology advances
    - a back-out clause should I choose to set up my own private cloud
    - severe penalties for infractions e.g. you want 6 figure sums for consumer piracy: I want 8 figure sums for corporate abuse

    The banks! Don't get me started: I would consfiscate the wealth of all managers involved (spiralling upwards as per their bonuses) in crimes, put the offenders in prison and insist they work in enforcement agencies for the minimum wage.
    It's time for some accountability!!
  • I'd like to avoid monopolies.

    "That's because markets tend to monopoly. "

    Which is actually a bad thing, and why in most countries it's illegal to either be a monopoly or wield monopoly-like powers over the competition.

    Monopolies have enough power to suppress innovation and prevent competition. Microsoft has shown plenty of times what happens when monopoly power is abused. Technology stalls. We were stuck with IE6 for the longest time until the monopoly was finally broken. I don't want to see that mistake repeated.

    The most important thing in a capitalist / free market society is *NOT* that somebody "wins" the race and ends up being a monopoly, but rather that multiple companies *ARE* racing and competing against each other.

    The objective of running a healthy and free market is not one business "winning" the race, but rather that the race always continues.

    Competition spurs innovation, not monopolies.

    "whether it's a guarantee that people can retrieve their data at any time and in a format that allows them to use it and move it to another provider, cloud providers should be held to account."

    This is a real problem with cloud computing. There's no way of getting rid of the walled gardens. It's a fundamental weakness of the cloud, along with lack of reliability of the last mile.

    I've always believed that the cloud is NOT a 100% solution. It's not a magic bullet that will kill all problems. It's one tool out of many, and should be used in combination with other, non-cloud technologies as well.

    Unfortunately, the walled gardens are getting stronger walls. Facebook has been fighting to avoid sharing email addresses, which makes moving over to their competition that much harder. And I'm seeing similar behaviors all over the place. Nobody wants to lose customers to the competition, so everybody's in the business of making it so that porting data to another service is as hard as possible.

    Problems I have with the cloud, that have no indication of going away:

    -Loss of data ownership. Okay, let's say I made some art or music or whatever. If I put it on the cloud, how well can I control it? Not very.
    *Not a problem with local computing. It's on your drive, you control where it goes.

    -Loss of data access when I'm out of range of a cell tower and WiFi. Some apps handle this better than others. Notably, the hybrid apps that store data on the phone work and sync it later work better than the pure cloud apps that store nothing on the phone.
    *Not a problem with hybrid apps. They work when offline, and sync when they have a connection again. Your information follows you everywhere and is available anywhere, regardless of internet conditions. Cloud+local=perfect solution for information accessibility.

    -Lock-in with "walled gardens." I don't like Facebook at all. But I can't convince everybody to more over to, say, Google+ if it's nearly impossible to move all of the profile data over.
    *Granted, this can still be an issue with proprietary file formats, but a lot more apps these days use standardized and well known formats. No such luck with the cloud yet.

    -Lack of UI stability. Hello, Facebook. When everybody JUST gets used to the last UI, they change it up. And they don't really give anybody the option to stay.
    *Not a problem with local apps, where YOU get to decide when to upgrade, and YOU get to decide what a comfortable pace is for the upgrade path. Turns out, most people want to stick with things for a while, not change them every month.

    -Security. One of the touted trump cards of the cloud. Turns out it's an outright lie. Throw as many security professionals as you want at it, you're gonna be hacked. It's not a matter of if, but rather when. A single point of failure is a single point of failure is a single point of failure. When a cloud provider's security is hacked, EVERYBODY is at risk.
    *Hacking is still a problem with individual machines, but has better isolation - somebody getting hacked on the other side of the planet doesn't affect my own machine. Granted, an individual PC is often less secure than a data provider, but hackers have shown repeatedly that it doesn't matter. They'll get in, one way or the other. The only question is how widespread and how best to do damage control.

    Not saying the cloud is bad, or that we should get rid of it. Just saying it's not the ultimate solution many people seem to think it is. It's one solution of many, and IMO there's no way I'm going to give up local tech completely. Because it's another good tool in my toolbox. It has its advantages as well. And as long as that's the case, there's no sense going down the rather extremist route of making the cloud into a panacea when it's really not.

    I want to be able to access my data anywhere I want, including places with no or poor connections. Too much to ask, really?
    • WRONG !!

      Strong encryption (i.e. AES) can make the cloud very secure. If your file is encrypted locally before it is transmitted to the cloud, nobody can access it except you. Notice that all data that hackers stole in the past several years from various companies was NOT encrypted.
      • What are the limits of encryption?

        Encryption can prevent an administrator from reading your data, but does it prevent him or her from deleting it?
    • Are you sure about the free market?

      I would say free market capitalism tends naturally towards monopolies and cartels, simply because there is more money to be made for shareholders by companies co-operating to keep prices high than in competing to make prices low.
  • Yes, the cloud still sucks and it will continue to accelerate its sucking

    You misunderstood Woz's point. He wrote that article for the average person. If he went into all the details of why it sucks technically (and they are a lot worse than one or two accounts being hacked because their owners didn't take proper precautions) we'd have thousands upon thousands of pages.
    Lucian Hontau