Apple co-founder's warning on cloud computing
Aug. 13, 2012
by Mark Ollig

When Steve Wozniak talks, people listen.

As Apple’s co-founder, and the technical genius behind the original Apple computer, Wozniak has caught the attention of those who have, and are planning to move their computing storage and access from in-house, to the cloud.

Not only are businesses moving their Information Technology (IT) operations to the cloud, many individuals are now storing and accessing their files on some remote server in the cloud, as well.

In a column yours truly wrote on March 30, 2009, I spoke about cloud computing, saying it “essentially enables computer users to easily access the applications they normally use directly over the Internet, instead of having them stored on their local hard drives or business computer servers.

“As an alternative to having your software data and applications reside in your computer’s hard drive, they would be accessible from a remote central server, which would distribute them like any other application resource to you via the Internet.”

It seemed to me that moving our data and applications onto the cloud just made practical sense.

Steve Wozniak recently expressed his concerns about cloud computing by saying, “I really worry about everything going to the cloud. I think it’s going to be horrendous. I think there are going to be a lot of horrible problems in the next five years.”

Upon reading this quote, my first thoughts were “Have we fully thought this through? Is our information really secured and safe when stored in some data server located who-knows-where, out in the cloud?”

The “Woz” is worried about it; he talked about the transfer of ownership of the information stored on our computing devices.

We are moving data from our computer’s internal and external hard disk drives and other physical media like DVDs and CD’s, onto cloud-based storage mediums.

No doubt many of us recall the days of backing up our computer’s information onto floppy disks; we dutifully performed our computing housekeeping chores.

We did not want to lose our data.

“With the cloud, you don’t own anything. You already signed it away,” said Wozniak.

I never gave this much thought. How many of us work on documents using Google Docs, or upload our photos to Photobucket, Google Photos, Pinterest, or Flickr?

We store and retrieve our music and video from the cloud using iTunes in Apple’s iCloud, or one of the many other cloud-storage providers.

We use cloud-based email service providers such as AOL, Hotmail, Microsoft, Yahoo, or Gmail.

When using a Google Docs (soon to be Google Drive) program, or our Internet email, we are using applications which are created, stored, and accessed – via cloud computing.

Individuals using Chromebook computers, for example, are accessing all their programs from the cloud.

Even the social media providers we use, such as Facebook, are storing all the messages, pictures, and video we upload to it.

We are placing all our trust in these online, cloud-based service providers.

I think about all our personal banking and credit information being stored in some cloud-based server.

Will our data remain securely stored in their portion of the cloud?

Will our data always be there when we need to access it?

“A lot of people feel, ‘Oh, everything is really on my computer,’ but I say the more we transfer everything onto the web, onto the cloud, the less we’re going to have control over it . . . I really worry about everything going to the cloud,” warned Wozniak.

The lack of having direct control and, in a sense, “ownership” of our data once it is stored in the cloud is obviously of great concern to Wozniak.

“I want to feel that I own things,” he said.

Granted, once our information is in the cloud, it is essentially being stored on a hard disk or data-server in a physical building – someplace.

Our cloud-based data could be stored inside a data center in the same or different state we live in.

Can I also suggest some of our data might even be stored in a different country?

Our cloud-based data can only be accessed via an Internet or direct network connection of some kind.

What would happen if that remote cloud-based server or data center experienced some catastrophe?

We assume our data is redundantly stored or safely backed-up onto data servers in other geographic locations.

Years ago, when I worked at my home town’s telephone company, we would back up important information from the digital telephone switching system onto magnetic tape cartridges and store them off-site. In the event of some calamity occurring with the digital equipment, or if a disaster would hit the physical building itself and destroy the digital switch, the safely stored off-site information would be retrievable – and thus could be loaded back onto a new digital telephone switching system.

How confident are we about our information being safely kept in the cloud?

The words of Steve Wozniak should be listened to, and they should give us some pause to think about our data being stored in the cloud.

We should be asking questions, such as:

• Besides ourselves, could someone else access our cloud-stored data?

• How is our data backed-up in the cloud?

• How secure, how protected is our data in the cloud?

• Is the data stored in the cloud encrypted?

• Could our data stored in the cloud be compromised in any way?

• Is the information being stored in the cloud “nonpublic” or, is it viewable by certain business or government entities?

• When I delete information I have stored in the cloud, is it permanently removed from all of the data servers in the cloud?

For a business, you would want to know where your data is being physically stored; I would ask where the data servers are geographically located and what disaster recovery plans the cloud-based service vender has.

I would also ask a business IT cloud-based service provider if they themselves have a back-up cloud provider that keeps in-sync with them in the event they, as my business’s primary cloud-based IT vender, experienced some disaster resulting in the loss of my data.

Folks, it’s time to take a closer look at the pros and cons of storing our data solely out in the cloud.

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