Cloud computing — online services like Mint, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheet, and other online applications that replace local desktop applications — is the hype of the day. Last year, they called it SaaS (software as a service). I guess they got bored with that. I have nothing against SaaS. I use Google Docs. I like it. I also use Google Spreadsheet and I’ve used Zoho Invoice. Very convenient and free.
But, at Macworld a few weeks ago, I overheard a terrifying story that has made me gone back to using local applications and storing my data locally (albeit always backed up). I was eavesdropping on two men who were at a software developer’s booth at Macworld talking to the developer about their awful experience. Both men own a business that had been using an online CRM application run by a European company. They had stored all of their customer data in that application including sales prospects, their sales pipeline, the deals to be closed, the status of sales activities, everything.
One day, they logged on and . . . it was gone. Not only their data and everything their business relied on, I mean, the company itself was gone. Panic ensued, they tried to contact the firm, but found out that the firm had gone bankrupt. The website was gone. Their data, gone. And what were two silly Americans going to do to try to get something back via a foreign bankruptcy court?
Now, you say, those men should have backed up everything to their local hard drives. Right. Do you back up all of the things you do on Linked In, Facebook, Zoho, or Google Docs to your hard drive? Think about it. Who has the time to do this? Don’t we all have too much trust in these online services? Who among us has bothered to find out what are the laws governing our data in the event that the company to which we have entrusted it goes bankrupt? And even if we are entitled to get it back, how long will it take? Where is it — the company, I mean?
Over the past few months I’ve been terribly suspicious of a lot of things I’ve taken for granted. Why? Because during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, it is very likely that horrid things are going to happen, for example, one or more of these online applications that I rely on will disappear. Why shouldn’t they? Most of them don’t charge you for anything. How on earth do they pay their staff, the rent, the coffee, the phone bills, the utilities, the CEO’s travel expenses? How are they making money? Or are they relying on the largesse of their venture capital investors? Good luck, I say. In the meantime, I’m keeping my data close to me, right here, by my bedside.
Everything old is new again: the Great Depression, software installed locally on your computer, government spending on infrastructure . . .