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Putting Trust in the Cloud

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November 25, 2009, 7:54 am

If you have any gold in your portfolio, then you are indeed a fortunate soul. With gold at an all-time high, upwards of US$1,100 per Troy ounce, lots of people with this precious metal are feeling quit flush right now.

No need to look at the URL field; you haven't accidentally landed on an investment site. Trust me, I'm the last guy you want money advice from. But something's going on with the gold market right now that could be analogous to a potential problem with cloud computing.

What's happening is this: in larger cities where large corporate banks have massive vaults, many retail customers who have been storing their precious metals in their bank's vault are being asked to move their property to make room for the bank's larger customers' gold holdings. It is more profitable, it seems, for a bank to store one ton of gold for one customer than one pound of gold each for 2,000 clients.

So, instead of honoring the smaller retail clients' needs, these banks are requiring the retail customers to find new homes for their gold.

I know what some might be thinking: this would be one of those problems that would be nice to have. But with gold so ridiculously valuable, the security logistics alone for moving this stuff are nightmarish, and if customers simply take it to their home safes, they put themselves at a pretty high personal risk.

What struck me about this situation is how banks can simply change their policies to suit the needs of their corporate clients at the expense of the retail clients. And, I could not help but draw the parallel: how will policies for storing our personal data be developed as more and more cloud providers and services ask us to keep all of our electronic "stuff" out on the cloud?

For instance, the pictures of our last family vacation are sitting on my hard drive, available as a slide show to any unfortunate soul I can rope into watching them. They are not monetarily valuable, but they are personally precious to me and my family. I could choose to store them on Flickr so more people can see them, but I don't because (a) I do know how unexciting they are and (b) I don't want to have pictures of my kids out on the Internet.

This last concern is a father's nettling worry, and I'm sure lots of people would tell me I'm just being paranoid. And they might have a valid point. But I am who I am, much to my daughters' sometime dismay, and the photos stay private for now.

With new platforms like Moblin and Chrome OS in various stages of availability, though, I may soon find myself facing a real push to store data like this out on the cloud.

My security twitchiness aside, I do see real advantages to using the cloud for storing data. It would be nice, for instance, to have all of my computers' data stored and accessible from one place. Right now, a lot of older info is kept on enclosed hard drives pulled straight from the original machine the drive was used, until an upgrade or a re-assignment necessitated moving that drive. If I have to find my wife's recipe for peppermint cocoa created in 2003, I know on what drive that's stored, but it's not a pretty system by any means.

There would be appeal, therefore, in keeping everything out on the cloud, so no matter what system I was using (or from where), I could get to everything quickly. Naturally, I can do that now, but the pain point is not high enough (yet) for me to actually make the change.

The analogy between finding a new home for gold holdings and storing my data does break down under close analysis. After all, it costs way much more to build a physical, secure vault than to slap another few petabytes into a cloud storage unit. There will never be a time when a cloud provider will say, "sorry, can't store your files anymore, no more room."

But, unfortunately, I could see an instance when a storage provider could say to little guys like me, "sorry, we need to keep the high-paying customers happy, so they're keeping the high-speed access. You'll have to use the lower-speed line, unless you up your subscription fee for a low, low, price of..."

As a consumer, I want to see one specific policy from providers of cloud-based storage: a guarantee that my data will never be given second-class status. There is very little chance I will ever be as profitable to a cloud storage provider as a large corporate entity, so, like the retail gold holders at banks today, I want assurances that I will never find myself struggling to get at my data.

Sure, if the provider updates their system to provide faster access for all, then I could have the option to pay more for more speed, but don't ever bump me down unless I pony up.

Almost as much as security and privacy, I want assurances that my data will be kept for the long haul. Because I want to show my grandkids someday that trip to the Biggest Ball of Twine we took in the summer of 2009.

 

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