NPR Scrapes the Surface of Cloud Computing, Barely

August 22nd, 2008 by - 10,036 views

Laura Sydell, of NPR’s All Things Considered, yesterday covered Cloud Computing in her piece “Computing in The Clouds: Who Owns Your Files?“. It’s good to see NPR making an attempt to cover critical technologies. I have found, however, than much of the time, NPR does stories that are more science related (e.g., thermo-power, developments in genetics, etc.) and less so on technology that affect computing. I guess, for one, they have a much different demographic than the one I am used to. But of course, working in San Francisco, we exist in a technology bubble. Travel slightly outside of that bubble and people don’t know what the “cutting edge” of technology is (with some geographic exceptions, of course).

So, when NPR starts to mention “the Cloud,” I get intrigued. They briefly covered it in this interesting piece on cloud computing as a “pay-as-you-go” enterprise. I understand that it will take time for others to hear about Cloud technology and even longer to understand and adopt it. But the interesting thing is, many people have been using it for some time, albeit named differently. For several years, the term “ASP” (Application Service Provider) was kicked around and equated to providing an application over the Internet. This recently evolved into Software as a Service (SaaS) which has strong adoption within the tech arena with providers of SaaS products growing daily. Now, the Cloud rolls in and we see companies working to position themselves within it.

Sydell’s story focuses on data ownership and User Agreements as they relate to Cloud Applications. What is a Cloud Application? Well, if you have read through some of my previous posts, I introduced my concept of the “Cloud Pyramid” which segments different Cloud offerings into various categories: Applications, Platforms and Infrastructure. Recently, I expanded that image to include Cloud Aggregators and Cloud Extenders (details here).


But getting back to the NPR piece, I think what is important here is that they are showing their readers/listeners that they are already using the Cloud in one form or another, through Gmail or Flickr for example. What is unfortunate is that they stop there and almost introduce a paranoia into the mix. However, the points that are made are good ones to think about, that of data ownership, security and SLAs (Service Level Agreements).

I would like to step through a few points that Sydell makes as well as some made by Harry Lewis (who contributed to the article). Specifically:

  • “…Cloud Computing is very convenient. But it’s also creating a whole new set of worries.”
    My response: “Convenience” only starts to address the advantages of the Cloud. First, let’s step back and look at what the article is about, namely looking at User Agreements and understanding data ownership. Gmail is a free Cloud Application service. Flickr is free with paid upgrades available. When was the last time you could get something for “free” that lets you do so much? Trust me, if you pay for an email server or manage one yourself, you have PLENTY of worries, from security to redundancy to availability. I’m hard pressed to see why using the Cloud would present more worries. I will agree that the set is a bit different, but in the end, I would say a bit lower in intensity.
  • “He tried to reach someone at Google, but couldn’t.”
    My response: This goes back to my previous point. If something is free, don’t expect support to be stellar nor easily accessible. However, Cloud providers can choose to change that. GoGrid, for example, while a paid-for Cloud Infrastructure service, does offer free 24×7 support. We believe that as with anything new, users will have questions and will want to get things answered. In order to facilitate adoption, the experience should be positive.
  • “…there aren’t any rules governing life on the cloud.”
    My response: Harry Lewis, computer science professor at Harvard, states this in the article. This is a rather broad statement and is somewhat haphazardly applied across the board. As with any evolving technology, it does take time to develop standard practices. But, the Internet and privacy therein is fairly tightly governed. When selecting a particular Cloud, you should do some due diligence in your selection. You would do that with any physical vendor you may want to use at your work or home, so the same practice should apply with the Cloud. A good provider will be stable and make it clear what their policies and practices are as well as offer some guarantees.
  • Shutting off your phone vs. shutting down your cloud service
    My response: In my opinion, this is an apples to oranges comparison. There are laws that govern the Internet as well. If you are using your phone for something illegal, you will be shut down immediately. The same applies to the Internet: if you host or transmit something illegal, the provider has the right to shut you down immediately. If you want to compare bill paying scenarios, that is fine. Gmail is free so how does that work? If you don’t pay your hosting bill, you are given some leeway with some providers. Regardless, this is a self-governing marketplace with standards emerging, as I said.
  • “Life on the cloud can be wonderful — except when it’s not.”
    My response: You could actually say the same thing about anything. “Life with electricity can be wonderful — except when it’s not.” A power outage makes us understand the value of it more when we are without it. I dare say that as Cloud Computing becomes more adopted and mainstream, we will wonder how we lived without it. It’s just a matter of time (think TV, cell phones, broadband access, etc.) before it is simply another extension of computing. Again, when you choose a Cloud provider, look to their experience and longevity and presence.  Take a hard look at startups when choosing where to “put your stuff.” GoGrid’s parent company, ServePath, for example, has been around for over 7 years in the traditional Internet hosting space.

I didn’t really want this article to be a rebuttal to the NPR piece, but it seems to have gone in that direction. Here is what I would want people to take away from my commentary. The “Cloud” has been here for a while (in one form or another) and is here to stay. As with any “vendor” or “provider” that you use with ANYTHING, do pay some attention and apply some scrutiny to their direct and peripheral offerings. You would do that in the physical world, so why not in the Cloud as well? Lastly, try to be accepting of things “new.” Technology evolves faster than ever now. Users are vetting it real-time and knocking out what isn’t worthwhile and showcasing that which is noteworthy. Lastly, I know that NPR will continue to cover technologies that are important ; I can only hope that they do it with more breadth and depth so that their audiences can truly understand the importance of these technological evolutions.

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

2 Responses to “NPR Scrapes the Surface of Cloud Computing, Barely”

  1. Chan says:

    This article is useful for a technology module. Note that the text is not an actual transcript of the audio, available via the link, though some of the paragraphs in the article are taken verbatim from the audio. This is a common feature of NPR stories that include both audio and substantial text, and this quality could provide from some engaging activities that would require learners to compare the audio and text versions of the story.

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