Thinking Tech

Finding your own balance between client and cloud

Finding your own balance between client and cloud

Posting in Architecture

We all have our own balance today between the client and the cloud, although it may not always lie where we think it does. That's a question it would be smart to ask yourself before the second decade of the 21st century starts in fewer than 100 days.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of moving all computing to the cloud. Last week I wrote about a different future, based on powerful clients.

This week I want to synthesize all this into a real future, and talk about who will drive that future.

You will.

(Global Fusion, from which this picture is taken, is among many companies trying to benefit from changing balances between client and cloud.)

We all have our own personal balance concerning what we want to hold close and what we want to be available remotely. The cloud and the new clients offer us options.

Vendors on both sides of the client-cloud divide want to make this an either-or choice, but if you demand it then it will become an and.

You can start the process by dividing your data into various types, and then considering what clients and clouds offer in each area:

  1. Work data falls naturally into the cloud. This is shared data, and while it may well be proprietary to your company it's public knowledge among those who need to know. Your choice may be whether to buy this as a cloud service or, perhaps, build your own cloud.
  2. Work applications may also fall naturally into the cloud. It's the economics of applications, whether Microsoft Office, Sharepoint, or anti-virals, that are driving the cloud movement among enterprises. When you buy the service -- Software as a Service (SaaS) -- you have a fixed monthly charge and no responsibility. Even open source alternatives need to be managed closely.
  3. Personal data is a tricky bit. Companies like Carbonite suggest you back up everything you own to the cloud. But this is where concerns about privacy come in. All your old photo albums, all your old tax records, all the movies and music you've been hoarding?
  4. Personal applications may make more sense in the cloud or on your desk, depending on the size of your family. Last summer our family of four had 7 PCs among us. Clouds sounded cool. Your mileage will, of course, vary.

Another way of thinking about all this is to consider a three-tiered architecture.

  1. The client has the data and applications you need in your hand or on your lap. Today's iPhone holds 8 GBytes. Tomorrow's will hold more. The client needs networking. It's a place for your stuff, but it can't fit all your stuff.
  2. The home server may live on your PC, in a storage closet, or at your office. You sync this to your client. It holds all your personal stuff -- your iTunes or MP3 library, the back-ups of your old tax returns and photo albums. Your TiVo is a home server. Now ask, what else can such a server do? More on that next week.
  3. The cloud is the ultimate back-up plan. Come fire or flood, come burglars, come hard disk crash, the cloud can (if you trust it) hold a copy of everything you own. The question is whether you trust it, or how much you trust it.

Many questions of cloud trust are going to be worked out based on data clouds already have about you. Anonymous data does not render you anonymous. Much of your financial life, and your identity, are already within the cloud. The cloud needs rules, and violators of those rules must be punished before we will trust the rules.

So not all the questions regarding our tech future are technical ones. Some are personal choices -- how much of your data do you trust to live remotely? Some are political choices -- how will we police the cloud? Some are something in between.

We all have our own balance today between the client and the cloud, although it may not always lie where we think it does. (Got Netflix? Like Amazon? Google yourself lately?) Where do you want it to go?

That's a question it would be smart to ask yourself before the second decade of the 21st century starts in fewer than 100 days.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure