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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Are They Rain or Cumulus Clouds?


No one doubts that so-called “cloud computing” is on fire these days.  Cloud computing vendors would have us believe that all is beautiful out there – nice white fluffy cumulus clouds.

Once upon a time (1960s) there was a business known as “timesharing,” thought by many to be the nirvana of all nirvanae (I made that word up).  Timesharing is nothing more than cloud computing.  One had on his desk a “dumb terminal” consisting of a screen and a keyboard.  The actual computing was done on computers (called servers today) located in remote sites managed by professional IT people and offering the user access to much more computing power and storage than he could otherwise afford.  Timesharing ultimately died partly because the acoustic-coupled modems of the day and the supporting networks were very slow, and then the PC came along and finished it off.  But what really knocked it off was the lousy security.  In the beginning there weren’t any hackers, so it wasn’t of much concern, but as hacking networks became the vocation of thousands, security went to hell in a handbasket.

Replace the phrase “timesharing” with “cloud computing.”  It’s the same business.  And while progress in the cost of storage and networking has changed a lot, the Achilles heel of the business – security – hasn’t changed.  In my opinion, cloud computing is downright dangerous unless all you want to do is save your grandkids pictures in the ether – and even that can be dangerous.  Unless the security issue is addressed, businesses will reject it.  Thems are rain clouds out there.

Unless you are the NSA, security is one of those things that everyone has always given lip service to but won’t pay for.  There are some hopeful signs, however, that, if brought to fruition, may actually make cloud computing everyone’s MO for the next couple of decades.  One of those signs is a development by Harris Corporation who is working on building what they call the “Trusted Cloud.”  If you never heard of Harris, I’m not surprised.  Although it is a $6 billion company, it historically has done secret work for spook and military agencies.  (Over the years, it gave commercial markets a shot, (minicomputers for instance), but never hit any home runs in that milieu.)

I’m not going to go into the details in this blog, but, suffice it to say, Harris may be on the cusp of making the cloud practical for a lot of folks who won’t touch it today.  If you want to delve into this further, I refer you to another quasi-technical blog, http://chucksblog.emc.com/chucks_blog/2011/06/harris-what-it-takes-to-build-a-trusted-cloud.html.   It was written by a marketing guy, so you have to put it in that context, but the basic concepts are explained pretty well.  Happy reading.

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