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Why Are We Scared of the Cloud?

Whenever I talk with any members of my extended family about computers, they invariably bring up “cloud computing.” They are utterly confused about what it is or what it means. All they know is that it scares them.

Whenever I talk with any members of my extended family about computers, they invariably bring up “cloud computing.” They are utterly confused about what it is or what it means. All they know is that it scares them. They’re deeply troubled by it. And I think it’s fair to say that this fear isn’t isolated. A lot of people are troubled by the cloud, which—thanks in large part to the mysterious connotations of its name—comes across as ephemeral, fleeting, and baffling. I can’t help but think that had the name evolved into something like “offsite vault computing,” then perhaps it would have more supporters today.

Because the fact is cloud storage—which is largely what we’re talking about it when we think of “the cloud,” at least from the perspective of home computing—is extremely safe and is a relatively simple concept. You might also call it “Storage as a Service (STaaS);” essentially, for a certain cost or subscription fee, a company hosts the storage of your data over the Internet. It probably goes without saying, but these hosting companies—at least, the reputable companies—use the latest and most potent security techniques to ensure the safety of the data that they store on their server networks. They’re constantly updating their high-end security software to be absolutely sure that your data is protected from malicious users and infections.

Can you say the same thing about the data-protection measures you take in your computing environment? Do you go to the same lengths to protect your important financial files or journals or photos?

You might have heard of three other hosted-services models in the business world: Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Those are all examples of cloud computing, and despite their increasing ubiquity in the workplace, you might be using one or more of them at home without even realizing it. That’s right: You’re probably already in the cloud. Are you using an online email service such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail? If you are, then you’re in the cloud. Do you use Apple iCloud, Google Docs, DropBox, or Amazon’s Cloud Drive? Yeah, you’re working in the cloud. But, you might say, it’s one thing to host email or non-essential files offsite; it’s quite another to go ahead and back up your most essential files, or even your entire computing environment, in the cloud. So, it’s STaaS (aka cloud storage) that most home users are nervous about, even as they see it as an unavoidable part of their computing future.

When I ask my family what makes them nervous about the cloud, they say it’s not only questions of security that make them cautious but also the inherent loss of control involved with handing over your most essential files to someone else. I always ask them to think about another essential thing that they already entrust to the “cloud.”

Money! Rather than stuffing our cash under our mattresses or even in private safes hidden away in our homes, we store that money in offsite institutions. And it’s not even in the form of cash—something tangible that we can hold in our hands. Rather, we know it’s there simply thanks to a series of numerals in our checkbook and on our monthly statements. We can’t even see it! And what’s more important to us than our money?

So what’s really got people in a lather about the cloud? Perhaps it’s the difference between trusting banks that have decades of trustworthiness behind them versus hosting companies that, in many cases, have been around for just a few years. And that’s a legitimate concern, given the economic realities of the past decade. But the more time goes by, the more it becomes clear that some truly reputable companies are ready for your business—and ready to treat your data with far more care than, frankly, you probably treat it at home (if you’re anything like me!).

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