Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Limitations of the Cloud

There have been a huge number of comments to Thomas MacEntee's questions on the Technology in Genealogy group on Facebook. Everyone online has an opinion about the convenience and reliability of using the Internet (aka the Cloud) for running programs and storing information. I think there is a lot more that needs to be said on this topic.

Fundamentally, when you store anything on any other storage device, other than your own, you are relying on their equipment and expertise to keep your information safe and secure.  The terminology in this area is clouded :-) and I will refer to storing your data in "Cloud" as offsite storage or with an offsite provider.

With some repetition, the factors here are as follows:
  1. You are relying on the offsite servers and storage devices over which you have no control. The computer servers may not even be owned by the offsite provider. The storage may be in a huge "server farm" somewhere in the world or in someone's basement. If you knew that the place where your information was physically being stored was in an area subject to earthquakes, storms or other natural disasters would you be concerned?
  2. Once you put your information on the offsite provider (the Cloud) you are at their mercy for service access. Their company could go into bankruptcy, be bought out or simply go out of business at any time. Do you know what happens to your data in those events?
  3. What if the offsite provider's computers are illegally operated? How do you know that the offsite provider is not using its computers for illegal purposes and your data is at risk because of potential shut downs by government agencies. Do you even know what country your data is being stored in?
  4. If you are storing any kind of private or sensitive information, are you prepared to have it made public. What if you get into some kind of legal action, can your data be "discovered" by subpoena or other court action?
  5. What happens to your data if you cannot continue to make the periodic payments? 
  6. What happens to your data stored for "free" on the offsite provider's computers if they decided to charge for the "free" storage such as just happened with Google?
  7. What if you are in an area, like happened to me this week, where you cannot get reliable Internet service?
I think there are a lot of other issues that should be considered about online storage. The convenience is great, the whole idea is life changing, but the risks are real and not well thought out or discussed.


  1. James, your points are very well taken. I use cloud computing as more of a back-up storage that just happens to be incredibly convenient for collaborating. I don't put files in the cloud and then delete them from my desktop or external hard drive.
    As for #7 above, I've invested in a wi-fi hotspot so I can take my internet with me. Of course, this only works in areas where I can pick up a cell tower signal.
    Thanks for the great post.

  2. James, thanks for the attention to this. What about power outages due to fire/storm, etc. Remember the huge Midwest-to-East Coast power outage related to ice storms? And just a couple of years ago, the server subcontractor of in VA, which affected FamilySearch . . . . and then there are denial-of-service hacker attacks.