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The Cloud

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
So for the second time in two weeks, I'm sitting on hold with Comcast trying to report that my "high speed cable" internet service is down. This is a stark example of why I think that, on a large scale, we (the First World) still aren't ready to adopt the cloud and move our data from our homes and businesses out into the far off reaches of the web.

After sitting on hold waiting to talk to Comcast for about 15 minutes, I was told that there was a phone and internet outage right now due to maintenance. (For the record, it's just after midnight as I'm writing this.) Good thing I don't rely on their phone service; I'm guessing that, in an emergency, I'd be out of luck. Being the kind of person who likes proactive communication, I asked if there was a way to be notified of upcoming outages. I was told that this was a frequent request, but no, there's no way currently to be notified. Finally, I asked if, were I to have a business connection versus a residential one, I would be experiencing the same outage. I was told yes.

Reliability is still important, and it's still fleeting. The point of having programs or data is to have access to my stuff when I need or want access to my stuff, not in the 95% of the time that service availabilities line up. Internet connections, while fast and generally reliable, aren't quite to the level of a "utility" yet.

When I think of a utility, I think of the power company. PGE does a pretty good job of keeping the lights on. Here in neglected North Portland, I've had a couple power outages since I bought my house 8 months ago. At least one was due to a fire and they shut off the power for safety reasons. So do you know what I've done? I've started investing in uninterruptible power supplies so as to keep some of my more delicate electronic equipment from being damaged (or turning off.)

From a cloud standpoint, an uninterruptible power supply would be a local data cache that ensured that, should upstream service be unavailable, I'd still have core functionality. In the Steam gaming platform, that would mean that I could still launch my games even if my connection were down (without advance notice, I don't believe that I can.) In Google Docs, that would mean that I could still access and edit my documents with my connection on the fritz (again, without having upcoming knowledge of an outage, I don't believe I can.) In essence, for the cloud to work I need it to not 100% depend on the wiring between me and it. And right now, that seems to be the case.

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