Microsoft, Google, and other tech companies are racing to design tools that can uncouple data from PCs and store it on servers accessible by multiple users over the Web. So writes Aaron Ricadela of InformationWeek in Google Discloses Plans For Long-Awaited Office Suite, First Components Due This Week.
For those of us who have been around since punch cards, this is a scary thought: big computer companies want to hold our data captive -- again. I recall my dad waiting a month to get the monthly month-end reports from his firm's data center -- they were always a month late. That was the 1960s and 1970s. He retired before PCs arrived on desktops, but now at age 82, he happily mucks about with his fifth notebook computer.
I admit that there are advantages to having professional firms store your data:
- automated backup.
- fewer worries of your data being lost due to house fire or office flooding.
- accessible from nearly any Internet connection.
- easily sharable with those so designated.
- automatic updates of application software.
- and, in some cases, no software to install on your computer.
But what about the drawbacks? Here are the concerns I have that parallel the benefits:
- automated backups can break down.
- loss of access to your data because (1) your Internet connection is down or not accessible; (2) the data center is down due to electronic failure or denial-of-service attacks. We've heard numerous reports in the last year of hosted facilities breaking down for hours and days at a time.
- data is easily scanned by the data center for its own use. Google admits to reading emails for possible advertising use. Expect Microsoft to do the same as reading private data become socially acceptable.
- updates are not always desirable, such as Microsoft's recent patch (and delay of re-patch) that caused IE to no longer access certain secure Web sites. Software has reached maturity, and so updates are now feared for introducing instability.
- when the software runs on a server, it is always slower than when it runs on your own computer, because of the delay caused by data flowing over the Internet's wires.
Before committing to a Google or Microsoft-hosted data center, see what their guarantee involves. Will they pay to reenter years of data collection, re-stage and re-shoot thousands of photos, and re-record gigs of media files? Probably not.
I'd expect the same sort of guarantee that accompanies software: anything that goes wrong is the purchaser's fault.