Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Everybody's head is in "the cloud™"

I have decided that it is high time I write out my thoughts on the Information Technology industries favorite buzz-word of the past couple of years... Maybe this article will be a bit of a break from my normal 'anti-fascism/eat-the-rich/banker-ninja's-killed-JFK' kind of story... But then again, it likely intertwines somehow.

The Cloud™
The latest and greatest technology that every company will be using in the next 5 10 15 years... In essence, what the cloud does is outsource the I.T. department and all data and any software applications to a services company and saves CEOs money†.
† - I do intend to disprove this cost savings further down the article 

Don't get me wrong, I love losing my job to Malaysian/Indian/Chinese children who can do it for me for 'just pennies a day', it's my favouritest thing... So now that the obvious is out of the way, let's get to the real problem that lies ahead of us.

First of all, this 'saving the corporation™ from having to employ actual humans within the country that they physically exist' is an obvious causality as to why the economy sucks (even without bankers to botch it up Corporations are doing a fine job, albeit much more slowly). Granted this still isn't my big problem with the cloud.

So the real issue? Control...

Think about it for just one minute. What is a common denominator in all companies, whether they manufacture things, or sell services?
  1. People - Those who give the company a voice on the phone, a presence in society, and perform the day to day activities (including running and programming and fixing machines).
  2. Equipment - whether it's desks and a phone system, manufacturing machinery, shipping conveyers, fleets (buses, trucks, cars), computers, etc... Even illegal companies have equipment (disposable cell phones, guns, cement shoe moulds, etc.)
  3. Data - Whether it's customer lists, copyrights, patents, intellectual property, or media... It is all 'data' these days.
Can new people be trained to replace people who've left? Yes. Although, if you are enough of a shit-head boss that all your employees gang up and leave on the same day, good luck.

Can equipment be bought or repaired if it breaks? Yes.

Can random data be pulled of the internet to replace lost data? No.

If data is 'outsourced' to a 3rd party, and that 3rd party suddenly goes bankrupt, but before they did so, they bounced paychecks on their employee (or group) who was running "backups" and "maintaining server integrity", so he/she decides to demagnetize everything in the server room before committing suicide... Then where do you recover your data from?

Maybe there is a way, maybe that way would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per day (generally requires a 'clean room', specialized equipment, and highly trained personnel), and months of effort. And sometimes data recovery is completely impossible... The things Hollywood shows us on CSI, NCIS, and all of these other 'dramatizations' are either much slower, or in some cases, do not even exist, so to rely on everything being a matter of nanoseconds and so easy any pock-marked 12-year-old emo kid can do in their sleep by mashing the keyboard is a bit unrealistic.

So, if this data is irreplaceable, and highly valuable to the majority of companies, why would they dump the baby with the bathwater? Because somebody has marketed this idea using 'reduced cost', 'lower overhead', 'less complexity', 'hassle-free', and a whole host of other things I feel are predicating on myths that computing should be as easy as it appears in movies and TV. The decision makers usually have only half a clue about technology, and no real clue of the behind-the-scenes portions that make it work, so it doesn't need to be oversold with fancy technical terminology.
I have had the Chief of Operations in a company bring me in some 'wall-street journal' technology article that he'd read thinking this sounds like a great thing, that we had already put in place 2 or 3 months earlier, and he had even been using... To his credit, ours was a competitors product with a more appealing list of features, so it was not 'named' the same thing. I've also had the president bring in an article about some security exploit concerning 'auto-play' that I had fixed months earlier when I happened upon a virus that was using it, I didn't need the 'article' to explain it, I saw a 'problem' and I 'fixed' it, because that's my job. Better still, when I fixed it, I used a method that fixed it on the entire network at the same time in under a minute, the article explained how to fix it on a single computer, which in a corporate network means hours of walking around interrupting people.
This is their target market. Not the people who's jobs their are eliminating, who would look at all the things they do that are completely unseen by anybody, and wonder but who would be doing that? This has been going on for a couple of decades because some crafty sales-people at 'solutions providers' have been selling in-house IT short for about that long, so it's not really shocking to me.

There is still a part of this whole movement that I can't seem to see past: most companies since the beginning of time (or networked computing, whichever started first), have imposed limitations to employees internet access (no gmail, hotmail, facebook etc.), and installed firewalls and extensive anti-intrusion technologies to prevent data theft or tampering with sensitive files. Most companies have also limited the number of people they grant VPN access to for the very same purpose. So, just how does uploading all of a companies data to the internet match up with that strategy?

"Now company data can essentially be accessed from anywhere..." 
Was that the selling point? Because, before anyone invented 'the cloud™' I had full access to an entire network with 'Administrator/root' rights using my HP iPaq from anywhere I could access a wi-fi (until I hacked my Moto Razr to allow tethering, then I did not even need wi-fi)... The cloud™ had nothing to do with that ability. I could effectively remote into a server and do anything I needed to do from there including reboot every computer on the network... Granted, it was a requirement of my job to be able to a number of things outside of business hours, and I certainly wasn't going to drive to work to perform a 30 second operation. This same company had sales people who only appeared in the office for meetings every couple of weeks but managed to keep a steady flow of orders coming in from wherever they happened to be from their laptop using any internet connection they could find. This wasn't the cloud™ at work, it was company policy combined with an IT team of two (2) people that programed, configured, and maintained it. And the total cost of that were 2 salaries and an annual budget that was lower than either of those salaries.

While this company would have been 'down' for some period of time in the event of complete failure of the server room, it was in control of it's data, it had backups and redundancies, and external storage of such materials, and it could all be observed by the CEO by walking across the office. Will the cloud™ provider allow you to walk into it's data center and verify what it's doing to safeguard your data? I doubt it because that would probably fall under 'Intellectual property' or (to go full circle, in case you weren't paying attention) their "confidential" 'data'. So, they'll safeguard your data, but you likely can't see where your data is in order to protect their own data? interesting...

Even more interesting than that, in my opinion, is that there are a few Cloud™ providers, not hundreds, not thousands. A few. Well, how many companies control main-stream media? A few. And how will is that working out for us? ---- We all know that Lindsay Lohan is going to jail again, and that Jessica Simpson is pregnant, but are now being steered towards believing that Palestine has never been it's own country... That is how 'informed' we are when 'a few' are permitted to 'inform' us. I don't suspect it would take much for 'a few' companies to conspire to destroy all intellectual property in a single electromagnetic accident... We've already seen that a few banks own the international economy. But yet, here we are faced with a growing number of companies trusting 'a few'.

Has anybody asked who are the 'few' that are involved with attempting to creating housing for all our data?


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