There are some terms which are commonly misunderstood, one of the most common is the reference to “The Cloud.” This term initially came from network diagrams which depicted the internet as a big cloud. Over time, this has morphed into a description meaning any service consumed over the internet – which is by definition almost all network traffic. After all, your browser just made a request to my web server, and got back a response of this page – a simple standards compliant exchange over the internet. Unfortunately, Cloud Computing has taken on almost mythic proportions if you listen to our business leaders, and they usually don’t understand what they are talking about. If you are like me, you likely hear this term misused at least weekly, if not daily.
The Cloud was recently described well (if snarkily) by The Internet Oracle as:
“The Cloud” is a marketing metaphor for, “We’ll do stuff for you over here on our machine, via the Internet. Don’t worry that we might screw up, or hold your data hostage, or later turn the whole affair into a contract of adhesion. We aren’t bad guys, because we say so. You really shouldn’t try to understand.”
What this is commonly used for is more like:
“The Cloud” will be used to simplify our lives because we are going to buy nifty services packaged and delivered by someone we’ve never met, but who has a pretty sweet looking web-page, and the guy I asked about them said it will work.
What does this mean in real terms? On any given day, it doesn’t usually matter (which is why those who do understand aren’t bothering to correct those who don’t). The risk is that services will be purchased for crucial portions of your service with insufficient due diligence – potentially putting your entire product or service at risk. Remember, people are lazy (especially in groups) and like fancy new technology which comes with cool brochures over proven technologies. This isn’t in itself a bad thing – I prefer a programmer who is lazy like a fox to one who will keep pounding their head on a nail since that’s the only way they know how to do it. That said, this means people will select easy, and often free services which may claim they own the copyright on all that flows through them, or simply release your data to the world once in a while without telling you, or simply stop working, leaving you with no recourse. There are a myriad of potential pitfalls to be aware of, and basing your business’ core on an agreement you can’t modify and which was never read is risky.
What should you do? Take care which services you buy online. If it’s crucial to your business’ operation, consider at least the following:
- Who owns the copyright?
- What happens if their service goes away? Can you replace it in time?
- Do you have any recourse if they harm you either through good faith efforts or with malicious intent?
- What are the true long-term costs? (Some licenses are free for personal use to get you hooked, but very expensive to commercialize)
- Will it scale? If it doesn’t, what options do you have?
- Can it be customized to meet future needs?
- Will it require specialized skills which are difficult to obtain?