This was a very well organised, slick and very professional conference about Cloud Computing.
The speakers were very good in particular Rob Craft from Microsoft, Ashley George from Glaxo Smith Kline and Eleanor Stewart from G-Cloud standing out. In particular I would have liked to know more about G-Cloud – this session was too short!
If you are one of the three people reading this (my last blog post got ten page impressions from robots, spam and me) you’ll know I’m not a technologist by background. So I’m less interested in the technical questions and more in the cultural, political and moral questions which surround any technology.
The first good thing is that I finally learned what “The Cloud” is. Here’s a good description from a recent Register article:
“The basic idea is to pool a bunch of servers and other resources (storage and networking) to create a general purpose platform upon which a variety of workload types can be run simultaneously”
Effectively computing power has now reached a level of sophistication where you can contract out as much of your IT infrastructure as you like. You no longer have to have your own servers or tin boxes somewhere in a room. There’s still a tin box or boxes somewhere but you no longer have to own it.
The promise of the cloud is obvious: more efficiency, more flexibility, potentially big cost savings. You can pay for what you need when you need it. I can see why businesses find it attractive.
There’s something emotionally comforting about having your own box in your own room. You know where it is and you can switch it on and off yourself. Cloud computing puts all that in the hands of others.
“Make sure you do your due diligence” said a couple of speakers. An understatement. You have to have a high level of trust in the third party, not to mention clarity around contracts and service. There’s always a danger of trust breaking down in a complex relationship with someone or something you can’t see. At what point does the cloud get so big and so complex that visibility, transparency and trust break down? I had a touch of déjà vu here. Wasn’t that what happened to the banking sector?
The session I particularly enjoyed was with Eleanor Stewart of G Cloud.
What they seem to be doing is fascinating: creating an artificial, controlled, easy to use market in cloud services as an incentive to government departments in order to break the power of the current providers of Government IT who charge too much and don’t give enough back. The analogy I thought of was of an amoeba which is broken into a number of small parts but then reforms eventually into a stronger and more efficnet creature.
The final session on law and the cloud was equally good. There was much discussion on how the Patriot Act in the US can be used to grab hold of user data of non US citizens. Your data could be crossing national borders and being processed in an illegal way before you even know about it.
A thought I had was again around banking and currency markets. The reason the cloud is attractive is because you can measure cost in different places. There’s a system where you can calculate how much something costs in rupees and then translate it back into dollars. You can measure how much a unit of labour costs in different currencies and compare them. You can’t do that with international law.
But maybe you should be able to. Couldn’t someone work out a number for the costs and risks of different law around data protection in different countries and turn it into something easy to interrogate and dynamic? What if you could assign a number to the Data Protection Act and compare it to a number for EU Privacy legislation?
We probably put too much faith in numbers. But if you’re going to do that put numbers on everything that’s a factor in your decision making so that you can see all risks and costs.
You can find out more about the Cloud Circle’s programme of events at thier website.