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Are You in the Cloud?

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It’s a little disconcerting to find Steve Jobs behind the curve. But that’s what Apple’s announcement of its cloud computing services yesterday seemed to be. In case you missed it: cloud computing is the ability to store your data on someone else’s larger digital storage units, instead of inside your own PC or other mobile device, thus allowing you to access it as you need it, to/from multiple devices.

What’s so useful about cloud computing?

Whether we know it or not, we’ve all been in the cloud for some time.  The books on the Kindle are housed in the cloud.  Your Gmail account is on the cloud.  Facebook and Twitter? Yep, the cloud.  I wouldn’t consider myself in the avante-guarde of technology, but I’ve been using the cloud for a long time. Since I work in multimedia, email is not a good way to send around cumbersome photo and video files.  So my clients, vendors and I use YouSendIt, DropBox, and Basecamp to share files and messages housed on the cloud.  I’ve also stored music on my Amazon cloud account, which preceded Apple’s newly announced music-sharing option.

What concerns should we have about relying on the cloud?

Recently I was cleaning up my DropBox folder in between projects and noticed that in my upgraded account I can now delete files and later restore them.  So even when they appear to be gone from the cloud, they’re not.  Comforting. Or disturbing. And this is the essence of the dilemma posed by the cloud for both individual or corporate users.  On the cloud, our file-accessing habits, keystrokes, time spent reading a particular page, membership in groups, and uploaded photos are all living outside of our own devices, making them easy targets for those culling marketing data or having more nefarious intentions (as Congressman Weiner recently learned). Earlier this year, the federal government released a cloud computing strategy and The Washington Post today published that the Office of Management and Budget reports 25 federal agencies have listed 78 applications to move to the cloud this year.  With that quantity of data moving to cloud storage, it’s pretty easy to fathom the national security impact.  And the personal impact. Whether we have moved there ourselves or not, every American–in one way or another–will be in the cloud.