This article originally appeared in Cloud Computing Magazine Q4 2012
An Open Letter to Steve Wozniak:
Dear Mr. Wozniak,
We’ve never met. Unfortunately, we probably never will. I, and many of my peers, grew up tinkering, hacking and learning on the hardware that you designed. It saddens me a bit that hardware has advanced to a point where a motivated curious child armed with a soldering iron and a grand vision is simply no match for modern industrial electronics manufacturing techniques. I value your past contributions to computing and fully respect the wisdom of my elders (for the record, I’m not exactly a spring chicken myself). However, I saw your recent comments about cloud computing and, not being one to put even the most respected figures above question, I feel compelled to take you to task on the matter.
From Santayana’s The Life of Reason, “...and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.” You and I have witnessed the infancy of computing with all of its awkwardness and angst like the suspicion of outsiders who were simply paranoid of that which they did not yet understand. We’ve seen it grow into young adulthood becoming cool and fashionable while ever more reliable and responsible.
If we go back and chart computing’s progress in the microcosm, we see that, as with most human endeavors, it did not come to its current state through steady linear growth. Instead we see periods of resistance followed by waves of forward progress. The telcos used to hate when modem users would call to complain about the noisy lines that worked well-enough for voice calls but would wreak havoc on our 300bps bi-coastal connections (which may or may not have been routed through a Fortune 500’s toll-free extender in order to assure “low-cost” access to the freshest text files in the land). Eventually, however, critical mass was achieved. The Internet, as we have come to know it, was born and the dial-up ISP business ultimately legitimized consumer telecommunications.
Later, email came into vogue for commercial purposes. Many companies initially fought the adoption of electronic communication for fear of associated liabilities, both real and imagined. Eventually, we saw once again, a critical mass that brute-forced even the stodgiest captains of industry into the development of a functional electronic presence.
These waves of adoption are truly forces of nature. With society as busy and as complex as ever, any significant convenience will be sought out and put to the test. By the time a technical computing concept has been blessed with a marketing moniker and has successfully infiltrated the cultural lexicon (think “cloud”), the wave has crested. You cannot hope to stop it but only to guide it as it comes crashing down.
So you think that things are going to be “horrendous” over the next five years? Based on what metrics? Aren’t things pretty bad right now? I don’t know about you but my family and non-technical friends all still use PC’s that are prone to and regularly infected with data-stealing viruses. Backups? Yeah, right. The average person needs to store files, personal data, financial info, etc. but is woefully unprepared to defend it. Many still don’t know or believe that their data needs to be defended.
As we move important consumer data into the cloud, we put it in the hands of organizations who have a vested interest in securing their customers’ information. If they’re not any good, reputation and customer service will see their businesses to a timely demise. Sure there will be some bad operators along the way but that’s true in any industry. Admittedly, there’s more at stake with millions of user accounts on the line. That very fact, though, places more pressure on a brand to ensure its operations are thoroughly monitored and secured. When, inevitably, defenses fail or the human factor rears its head this same fact will also help to ensure consistent and fair treatment of those affected by the vendor’s failure. Again, there will be failures but the potential of cloud computing to streamline our already complicated lives is well worth the risk for the average person.
Some of the metrics by which we will begin to judge data security and longevity will grow organically. Some will be engineered. The latter is where I beseech you to reconsider your comments and assume a positive role. Cloud computing is here to stay. You cannot fend off the inevitable. I would hope, though, that someone having your intellectual investment in the computing field would seek to shape this next wave of advancement. Instead, your recent remarks incite fear and uncertainty in a way that serves no constructive purpose. Ignoring the lessons of the past through denial of present realities is, as a weathered engineer might say, “not even broken.” It’s just dumb.
Edited by Brooke Neuman