Last week I attended the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco. Focused on innovation and collaboration inside the enterprise, it’s one of my favourite conferences and this is the second year I have attended (and in a departure, planning for 2009 has already begun, so if you want to go, you’d better register now, as spots are limited).

One of the most provocative sessions for me was Document 2.0, here’s the official blurb:

Documents flow through our organizations, are validated, reviewed, circulated, modified, transformed, printed, scanned… Just like the Web, the Office, or the Enterprise, the document has to evolve to support more effective business processes. Welcome to Document 2.0! Open, secure, personalized, traceable, structured, mobile — we’ll explore all these topics in this panel.

There were two really interesting threads that emerged during the course of the panel discussion, one was forward compatibility and the other was, not surprisingly, security.

Forward Compatibility
Who out there can still read their WordPerfect 1.0 documents, stored on floppy discs more than a decade ago? Unless you have the software and the hardware (a computer with the appropriate drive) you’re out of luck. There are millions of businesses and individuals in the same boat – they have data stored on tapes or discs that can no longer be easily read, meaning that data is as gone as if it had been deleted in a catastrophic systems crash.

The topic of centalized data repositories – essentially SaaS (software as a service) file servers, flushed out some passionate debate, largely focused around trust – a number of people in the audience seemed to be completely unwilling to entertain the idea that a third party service provider could actually be better at taking care of their data than they were. I’d like to strongly disagree.

If you stored your data remotely, rather than having to keep old equipment around to read old files, your service provider would ideally keep your data current and store it (or systematically update it) to be truly forwardly compatible (and searchable, and clean).

When it comes to security, think about it this way: you already store your money in the cloud. Your employer does not give you a bag of gold ingots on payday. They electronically transfer funds to a third party. Most of us are so comfortable with this that we don’t even think about it, but if the system suddenly stopped working or the third party stopped doing what they were supposed to do, mass chaos would ensue. The things that stop that from happening are mass and regulation.

So, a thousand little unregulated third-party data storage providers? No, I wouldn’t get on that boat either. Just enough big players to create an environment of competition and innovation, with appropriate government regulation that would establish forward compatibility and security? I’m all over that – and you should be, too.

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3 Comments

  1. Great point, Maggie! I have old email files left over from the elm days stored on 3.5″ floppies. God only knows how I’ll ever access them. Cloud storage is much better.

  2. Maggie,

    Cloud computing and storage certainly has its advantages as you’ve noted. But a business should decide if the risks outweigh the benefits.

    While network computing is itself not foolproof, cloud computing creates additional points of potential failure before for you can access your information or application. First, your own service provider may go down. Not an issue if your application or information is stored locally. Second, whoever is providing your cloud computing apps or storage: their SP may go down, again, cutting off access. And third, the cloud computing provider’s hardware (servers, apps, etc.) may go down or be compromised for whatever reason. Can you afford, for any length of time, to lose access to your data? Depends on your business.

    On your analogy of e-payments, I’d respectfully disagree. The transaction is made in the cloud, but the records of how much you have remain within the bank’s databanks, owned by the bank and usually onsite at bank owned property. I don’t think they trust that to a third-party storage company.

    And currency is different than information. Currency is static. If the bank gets robbed or there’s a fire or it’s closed, I can get the same currency from another bank. But ‘information’ and data is proprietary and unique: if it’s destroyed or lost by the cloud storage provider, I can’t go somewhere else to get the exact same thing. It’s gone. And it’s often worth a lot more than currency.

    Cloud computing will gain momentum within many sectors, but its inherent risks will likely depress that rate of adoption.

    Apologies for length (if you’re still awake…) ;-)

  3. I think you’re both on the same page-you both seem to agree that cloud computing is a fantastic concept, but one that needs to be carefully assessed and regulated before it is safe for companies to trust their data to a third party.

    The only way to do that, as Maggie pointed out, is if people throw their complete support behind the concept. That is the only thing that will generate the appropriate research, development (and funding) to made effective cloud storage a reality.

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