Outlook: Cloudy

It's Wimbledon fortnight, and living in south west London I'm watching out for the inevitable clouds and rain, something that made me think about the other cloud...I'm not really one to use cloud services.

It's Wimbledon fortnight, and living in south west London I'm watching out for the inevitable clouds and rain, something that made me think about the other cloud...

I'm not really one to use cloud services. I like my data safe and sound on my desktop or on my servers. It's under control, I know just where it is, and the data protection registrar won’t be asking me where I keep that address book.

At least that's what I liked to think.

Not surprisingly it turns out that that's not actually the case.

I did a little personal cloud audit the other day, while playing with Microsoft's new Live Essentials tools, to discover I seem to be living the "software+services" life without realising it…

First there's the obvious, uploading my photos to Flickr and using Gmail and Hotmail as backup (and disposable) email. My social graph lives in Facebook, and there are all manner of websites and services I use for everything from ebooks to video. Some of the sites and services have even managed to supplant the physical - I use the SkyPlayer in my Media Center PC far more than I do the satellite dish on the outside of the house.

The list goes on, and RescueTime is trying to make me more productive, scanning what I do with my PC and reporting on it through web services, while TuneUp uses many different online data sources attempts to keep my music collection in order (cloud services at odds with each other, and I won't even start to talk about Steam!). It's actually quite hard to find a consumer service that doesn't have some aspect of the cloud in it…

Drilling down deeper, I use Xobni to manage my contacts. It used to be a desktop only service, but now it uses cloud tools to throw even more analytic power at my address book. It's nice not having to hammer my desktop with indexing operations, but just where is that address book now? Things have got even more blurred, as all my Xobni data is now appearing on my BlackBerry, synchronised using the cloud to mediate errors and issues. It's not the only cloud synchronisation service I use, with DropBox for sending files to editors and colleagues, and my back-up memory EverNote, with a cloud synced notebook that links PC and phone and laptop, seamlessly. Then there's my Mozy backup service, which stores my essential files somewhere under a mountain in Utah. Yet more cloud, though my data is encrypted on my PC before it goes to its new granite vault.

And now Office 2010 is bringing even more cloud services to my desktop, and I'm slowly moving shared OneNote notebooks to Live SkyDrive. Google Docs isn't quite the collaboration platform I want it to be, but I seem to be getting much of what I want from the Office Web Apps and the co-authoring tools in Word 2010.

That's the obvious. The less obvious are the cloud services plugged into my servers. My anti-spam tools are powered by cloud services, with Microsoft's Forefront 2010 uses Cloudmark's cloud anti-spam service, as well as cloud-delivered DNS black lists. Depending on what cloud definition you use (and Gartner has, the last time I heard, nearly 60), you can also count my BlackBerry as a cloud service, with BES Express sending push mail and applications through RIM's data centres.

The proliferation of cloud services is something that IT professionals need to be worried about. How can they keep track of that data flowing in and out of their networks? Everything's running over the ports our firewalls understand as HTTP and HTTPS, and we can't just block those. We can't even use Data Loss Prevention tools, as the volumes of traffic flowing through those connections are enough to overload even the heftiest of x86-based security appliances.

A new dilemma for our new age.

The security outlook is most definitely cloudy.