Home > Cloud Storage, Communications, Electronic Records, Internet, personal data online > James Bellini: Life in the cloud will mean data breaches

James Bellini: Life in the cloud will mean data breaches

This article was taken from the October 2011 issue of Wired magazine.

The first myth about cloud computing: despite the hype, the cloud is nothing new. Back in 1961, futurists such as John McCarthy were talking of “computation as a utility”; the first definition of “cloud computing” is credited to Ramnath Chellappa in a Dallas lecture over 14 years ago. And if you accept today’s industry concept of “a dynamically provisioned resource driven by user demand”, then early steam-driven mainframes were cloud personified. They still are: surveys show most mainframe executives see their big iron as a key part of future cloud plans.

What is different is the sheer size of the future-data challenge. The best analogy is electricity. In The Big Switch, Nicholas Carr says that in 1900 the US boasted over 50,000 private power plants, supplying countless factories and mills. Then some bright guys at Edison created a public electric grid that all could plug into — and the economics of business were transformed.

A hundred years on, the same goes for IT. In-house computing is primitive and costly; studies show cloud “is an order of magnitude cheaper than on-premises solutions”. This cost advantage widens with time: over, say, five years a cloud-based firm will save millions by avoiding hardware upgrades, while reaping the benefits of greater agility and flexibility. A recent Brookings report on US federal agencies concludes that migrating to the cloud would yield savings of 25 to 50 percent.

So where’s the catch, apart from concerns over security and standards so widespread that pundits compare cloud solutions to “an old Wild West boom town”? Time for myth number two: the generation of data will be so vast, every cloud — public, private and hybrid — won’t be able to cope. In the age of Big Data, driven by the sensor-connected Internet of Things and our appetite for rich content, future IT systems will be overtaken by leakage, loss and data theft on an unprecedented scale.

The numbers are big — and growing exponentially. One second of HD video generates over 2,000 times more bytes than a page of text. By 2015, annual US internet traffic alone will exceed one zettabyte — 1021 bytes, or one sextillion. That is roughly equivalent to everyone on Earth continuously posting on Twitter for a century. By 2020, the world’s yearly data capture will surpass 35ZB. Global storage capacity, meanwhile, is growing at only half that rate: data spill and data breach will become common. And forget external hackers: any employee with USB access can take home priceless corporate data for the highest bidder. It even has a name: podslurping.

In any case, the real databases of the future will be social networks, where millions of individuals store their “personal cloud” of social and work-related information. They will even be required take their “PC” with them to a new employer. What price data-security then?

Author: James Bellini

James Bellini is a futurist and author of Pioneering Spirit: The Inchcape Story (Artesian).

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