Google DC Event on Cloud Computing

On Friday, September 12th, Google DC held a talk on cloud computing in its New York Avenue location in downtown Washington, DC.  Specifically, the event discussed a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on “Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services”.

Moderated by John B. Horrigan, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the talk included

  • Dan Burton, Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy, Salesforce.com
  • Mike Nelson, Visiting Professor, The Center for Communication, Culture, and Technology, Georgetown University
  • Ari Schwartz, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Center for Democracy and Technology

Here is a brief write-up of the event.

Cloud computing is basically the offloading of data from individual computers loosely linked to the internet, to a network of computers specifically maintained and interfaced so that people can access that data from any electronic device anywhere in the world. 

From a Wikipedia footnote:  “According to the IEEE Computer Society it “is a paradigm in which information is permanently stored in servers on the Internet and cached temporarily on clients that include desktops, entertainment centers, table computers, notebooks, wall computers, handhelds, etc.”” (reference)

Most people have interacted with the cloud by way of Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! mail, Google Docs, and other similar web-based applications.

It is clear that there are still norms that need to be formed regarding the cloud in terms of societal, regulatory, and corporate.  Said Schwartz, “Consumers expect their information will be treated the same on the cloud as it is if it were stored at home on their own computers.”  This is what they may expect, but so far this status is not legally protected, and the cloud is not yet mature enough to ensure it.

Forty-nine percent of U.S. residents who use cloud computing services would be very concerned if the cloud vendors shared their files with law enforcement agencies.  As one of the panelists pointed out, this is strange since we have restrictions in place to prevent law enforcement from freely snooping on personal computers.  Is there a difference in who can view your data if it’s stored on your computer or stored in your private cloud?

Some interesting statements made during the talk:

  • Mike Nelson, professor of the “What’s Shaping the Internet” class I’m taking this semester, said that the state of the cloud is roughly at the same point as the state of the web was in 1993.  This means that there’s a lot of innovation and new applications on our way, and we’ve hardly scratched the surface!
  • Dan Burton at Salesforce.com gave an interesting perspective, coming from what his clients are asking for.  His corporate clients strongly desire moving to the cloud as it brings down their costs, makes their IT management easier, and lets them concentrate on their core businesses.  This was in response to a question about whether companies will want to move their sensitive data to the cloud.  Clearly there’s some data companies will keep in-house but Burton emphasized that most data is already being moved online.
  • Burton also mentioned a concern for potential future international trade barriers for dataflow if legislators don’t promote openness; while it sounds less likely now based on recent FCC decisions, the concern that countries will shut off dataflows as part of other policy actions is well-founded.

A final note.  In imagining how to visualize the cloud, I scribbled a picture of a private node surrounded by a private cloud that is linked to that node.  The node and cloud combined may interface with other peoples’ private clouds, but retain their atomic personal centers.  In this way it starts to look molecular in a way — distinct nuclei surrounded by electron clouds that share and interface with others.  Can you think of a clearer way to imagine this?

  • “Is there a difference in who can view your data if it’s stored on your computer or stored in your private cloud?”

    In America, legally there is. 4th Amendment protections are weaker if you’ve given your data to a third party. That doesn’t mean it should…

  • @Ben: Here’s an interesting aside on the “cloud computing and privacy” debate — companies may have the right to access data stored on company laptops issued to their employees but they may not have the right to access data stored in the cloud by their employees using the company laptop.

    That aside apart, what really interests me is how BRIC countries will adopt cloud computing.

    JP Morgan analyst Tarry Singh has been speculating (based on search data from Google) that BRIC countries, esp. India, will be early adopters of cloud computing. However, the high interest in cloud computing in India is surely driven by IT vendors and not end users. You can see a similar skew, especially for India, on searches on “social media”, which is again driven by IT vendors instead of end users.

    I can imagine IT companies in India being early adopters of cloud computing because of high familiarity and low cost. However, I can’t imagine mainstream businesses or individual users in India (or Brazil/ Russia/ China) adopting cloud computing anytime soon because internet access in these countries is far from ubiquitous. Even the much higher penetration of mobile phones in BRIC countries won’t drive cloud computing because most of these mobile phones still don’t have data access.

    So, search volumes apart, cloud computing is still far from the ground realities in BRIC countries.