Having roiled the water with my first five posts on the subject, I owe it to you to say where I come down on some cloud services. Here goes:
Web hosting. To my mind, this is a clear win for cloud computing. I maintained my own Web server for many years. It was a lot of work, and it consumed a lot of power. I set up a DMZ with my firewall, and put the Web server on it. The machine could do nothing but serve webpages, but ate power as if it were working hard. In addition, Web download speeds for my server were limited by the speed of my ISP connection. Going to a hosted facility actually cost less than just powering the Web server, and provided higher bandwidth connections to my users.
E-mail, calendar, contact, folder, and task synchronization. Another cloud computing success. As I’ve reported here, I maintained my own Exchange server for years, and it was no fun. In addition, because I was unwilling to connect it to the Internet (I didn’t want to deal with the network security issues), I missed out on a lot of mobile synchronization possibilities. Now I am on Rackspace’s hosted Exchange and liking it a lot. I have friends who are using MobileMe, and most of them aren’t fans. Availability problems and incomplete synching have made them gun-shy. Google office has the ability to synchronize with Microsoft Outlook. When I looked at this a couple of years ago, there were many limitations. I assume that most of them have been ironed out by now.
Backup. I don’t think cloud backup is appropriate for serious photographers. While the convenience is hard to beat, limited Internet bandwidth means that restorations take an impractically long time for people whose data is measured in terabytes. Add to that worries about your images escaping into the wild, and you probably should continue to make those trips to your safety deposit box. Once you’ve made the commitment to routinely move disks with backup images to a secure off-site location, you might as well backup all of your information to the same disks, and never have to worry about your financial information floating around in the cloud.
Web e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and the like. The plus side of this is ubiquity; the downsides are performance and the usual suspects. Once you’ve decided to do some kind of e-mail and folder synchronization, I see no reason to suffer the performance degradation associated with a web app, since you synchronization engine will give you the ubiquity that is the raison d’être for this category of cloud computing. You might carve out an exception for documents that need to be worked on by several people at the same time.
Music and video. I can see the ubiquity argument, especially if you have a lot of mobile devices and don’t want to sync them through your desktop computer. I don’t value seamless portability of media sufficiently highly to make up for my concerns about availability and usage rights.
Voicemail in the cloud. This works very well for me, and the convenience of universal access to my messages make me tolerate my privacy concerns. I treat voicemail as ephemeral, so I’m not concerned about backup.
Fax in the cloud. It’s amazing how long things hang on. Now that it’s so easy to scan things to a PDF and send that PDF is an attachment to an e-mail, I would’ve thought there wouldn’t be any need for fax at all. But some people still want you to send them faxes. Fax services, like eFax, are cheaper and more convenient than having a phone line and a real fax machine. However, there are some privacy issues, since they send you faxes as unencrypted PDF documents. Still, I think it’s a good solution.
Social media. Not my thing, really, but if it’s yours, you should go into it with your eyes open about the privacy and security issues. The reason for the sky-high valuations of LinkedIn and Facebook is the value the market sees in these companies having lots of information about your personal likes, dislikes, and network of friends.
There’s not much that’s black and white in cloud computing. There are advantages. There are drawbacks. Each of us needs to pick our way through this minefield in a way that fits our priorities.