Dark clouds ahead?

Dark cloudsI have been considering the issues of betting the future or your organisation on a commoditized cloud based-approach.

I’ve tweeted many times about the benefits of cloud and how were exploring those at the OU. It’s always interesting though when things come along that wake you up to some obvious dangers.

Organisations lose their autonomy and right of decision making when moving to cloud providers.

Take for example the cull of Ubertwitter, this article by Dave Winer sums it up nicely. In it he says…

“They [twitter] sent two wakeup calls to their users:

1. Hey it would be safer to use our client to access Twitter.

2. We will kill your use of Twitter if it suits us. “

Why is it important? – Well taking the control of your users outside of a carefully crafted institutional environment and leaving it in the hands of a for profit commercial organisation does bring risks and one of those is that they have the power to decide how and which users access their site. You only have to look at the Google censorship row in China to see that big organisations can cause big problems for governments, that in itself can cause problems for organisations who rely on those services to reach learners in countries such as China.

As well as institutional loss of control there are also individual loss of control issues with cloud. Summed up by Richard Stallman with regard to Chrome OS (again I’ve blogged about this being potentially very powerful in past posts). Another post by John Honeyball talks about the “thorough data rogering” of Twitter and the fact that some cloud providers are still not giving guarantees about where data is being held.

Imagine how embarrassing and difficult it would be for example if an organisation had recommended UberTwitter to it’s clients (learners) and then found them cast adrift (and perhaps unaware of being adrift). I’m most concerned though that to work in a loosely-coupled distributed way organisations must take a significant risk over ceding the right of access, delivery and protection of information for their community. If you get into bed with one of the big providers and then they piss off a country you lose a potentially huge market and also remove access to anyone currently studying from there. It’s a risk.

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About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

3 Responses to Dark clouds ahead?

  1. Mariano says:

    But… that´s what Cameron preaches… http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/feb/21/david-cameron-public-services
    Neo-liberal preach: Outsource everything… “my mates, sorry, the market will control it for you and charge you as much as they wish) once you are hooked in” “Better than your bother. We are doing you a favour”
    “Sell the country… keep quite, be an idiot… trust me, I know better!”

  2. The moment you trust any organisation or anybody to do anything you’ve taken a risk of some sort. You could say the same for proprietary software you use locally. What happens if that company goes bust? Or maybe they decide to withdraw that nice academic discount suddenly? Of course people are always telling me that open source solutions can carry risks too, though I think it is often far less of a risk than some make out 🙂 You can’t even win by writing whole solutions locally, as that still carries risks. So I think you are right to point out the risks associated with cloud computing. It doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with the idea, just that, like anything else, there will be some negative as well as positive points to think about. Ultimately having a “plan b” in case things go wrong with your chosen provider is always a good idea and ensuring that data can be moved to another solution is a wise move too.

  3. willwoods says:

    Interesting comments. Liam I agree completely, it is around managing a different set of risks and as you say no option comes without risks. If Learning Systems become more disaggregated, as is the way the world is moving these days with shared solutions and cloud (and BTW there’s a huge HEFCE £12.5 million funding programme announced this month for adoption of cloud and shared solutions) then the plan B needs to be around adaptive solutions and manage service resilience in a loosely coupled environment. It may be a challenging but very interesting technical model.

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