Monday, August 16, 2010

A good laugh regarding "Cloud Computing"

I recently clicked my way to an article on techi.com from June 21st, 2010, called "Three reasons the PC era is coming to an end."

This Fantasy Land excursion can be found here:
Three reasons the PC era is coming to an end

Now, keeping one astute eye on the cave-dwellers who were still writing editorials about the impossibility of "heavier than air" flight, even after Wilbur and Orville had successfully accomplished it, I would like to speak about the aforementioned PC article. It's just too funny to pass up.

Navneet Alang, the writer of the article, is utterly convinced that "cloud computing" will replace PC-based computing. What I don't understand is how a supposedly respectable techno-site like techi.com could let this ungrounded and nonsensical poppycock get by them unchecked.

Hilarious claim number 1:
Navneet says that 'outsourc[ing]' our computing power to the network (Internet), and using just a terminal at home (replacing allegedly useless artifacts, such as hard drives, video cards and CPU's) will make much more sense, in terms of vital aspects, such as speed and convenience.

What's wrong with this attractive sounding prediction?

Supposedly the Internet is already overtaxed in terms of usage, according to all the greedy, controlling ISP's who want to charge us by the megabyte, and who say that they must do so because peer-to-peer usage gobbles up too much bandwidth. How, then, will this overtaxed Internet network be able to accommodate the increased activity of millions of terminals simultaneously transferring exponentially greater amounts of remote data over thousands of miles, back and forth, to their terminals? This is an action that is currently performed locally on PC's, only inches from the hard drive(s) to the RAM and CPU in the same PC, and at a bus rate (speed) that makes broadband look like the covered wagons of the Oregon Trail.

Navneet's strong suit does not appear to be logistics.

Historically speaking, the processing community already made the move from mainframe computing to the distributed system model two decades ago. To assert that our computing experience will be more reliable, and faster, if millions of us all use the same collection of remote processors at the same time, is more than just a little ignorant.

Hilarious claim number 2:
Navneet wrote:
"... once broadband speeds are fast enough, it will be one more nail in the personal computers' coffin."

So Navneet's vision of the future requires faster broadband. Okay, that's fair. I'm sure Internet speeds will continue to increase. The only problem is Navneet forgets that PC hardware is the forefront of Internet technology (to even exist, Internet technology actually depends on PC technology). No matter how fast broadband becomes, a PC built with technology from the same time frame will always be more powerful.

The objection to my statement that Navneet could certainly raise is the prospect of parallel computing. Just like specifically structured server clusters, if the entire Internet somehow managed to be utilized as one huge parallel processor, then the processing speed would indeed be much faster than a single home computer.

However, the processing model for that kind of computing would require a complete restructuring of how home computers are currently built and used. Add to that the fact that if we were all using 'dumb' terminals, without CPU's, then the ultimate potential of the Internet as supercomputer would be unrealizable. There's no way to convert a bunch of YouTube and porn surfers into a parallel processing resource by merely key-tapping and mouse-clicking all day long.

Hilarious claim number 3:
Navneet says cloud computing will be much more "convenient" than PC computing.

Is it even necessary to remind computer users that running (any program at all) on a dumb terminal will require a constant and continuous Internet connection the entire time? This means that when the user's Internet connection suffers any type of interruption, there will be moments of frustration with dumb terminals that make current PC troubles seem like a visit to the spa.

The recent hullabaloo over the draconian DRM (Digital Rights Management) on the PC game "Assassin's Creed 2" should be enough of a cautionary tale regarding the requirement of a continuous Internet connection. Yes, many people went ahead and bought the game anyway, but a vast and significant portion of the game's potential user base publicly told Ubisoft to stick their DRM where the sun doesn't shine. In forum after forum, they justifiably proclaimed that it was moronic to require a constant Internet connection just to play a single-player game.

Then, they did what any self-respecting, righteously indignant, and normally honest PC gamers would do: instead of buying the game and being complicit with the unreasonable DRM, they downloaded the pirated version off the Internet, and played it with no DRM... a simple freedom the paying customers weren't even allowed to enjoy!

But I digress.

One thing that enrages many home computer users (PC and Apple alike), is the feeling of helplessness when something goes wrong that they don't know how to fix. How much more will this emotion of helplessness be magnified by being at the constant mercy of the Big Brother ISP's in Navneet's version of our digital future?

Clearly, any reasonable person can appreciate that handing over all control of our ability to run programs, perform computations, communicate, etc., to a handful of ISP companies (or potentially the government, for that matter), would be a significant step toward taking away our ability to protect our own freedoms. Not to sound like a militia/survivalist nut, but cutting us all off from each other would be as simple as the click of one mouse... especially in a scenario where all mobile devices (including phones) might eventually require connection to the Internet to function.

Hilarious claim number 4:
Navneet lists collaboration, document & file movements, communications, scheduling, and ease of accessing data as advantages of cloud computing, as compared to PC's.

The amusing aspect of that list is those activities are already (and have been) extremely accessible with PC's and the Internet; thus the list is redundant and empty as a sales pitch for cloud computing.

Hilarious claim number 5:
Navneet compares letting a company store your most personal data on their server(s) to depositing your money at the bank for safety.

Last time I checked, it was much easier for a cracker to break into a particular box on a network than it is for someone to steal money from a bank. In fact, when money is stolen from your bank account these days, it's not appropriated by a masked gunman, it's stolen by a digital criminal (someone who has used a computer to break into a bank server somewhere and access your information; a server 'guaranteed' to be secure from naughty people).

The truth of the matter is that the information technology robbers ('black hats') are always one step ahead of the cops ('white hats') when it comes to Internet crime. It's much harder to force your way (undetected) into a steel-and-cement structure than it is to breach a computer connected to the Internet.

Hilarious claim number 6:
Navneet says tablet-style personal computers are "the last piece of the puzzle," in terms of bringing the PC era to an end.

Most obviously, how can a PC (regardless of platform) bring the PC era to an end? Nice chunk of nonsense there, Navneet. Tablets are simply personal computers with different window dressing and input mechanisms.

Tablets are groovy gadgets, novel and useful in many ways. But have you ever attempted rapid typing on one? Ever tried to play a serious video game with one? Desktop computers, the most dependable workhorses in the home-computing world, don't usually fall out of your backpack, pulverizing their displays on the asphalt.

To sum this up:
While I do agree that one day the current form of home computing will change (simply because technological progress itself usually dictates those kinds of developments), the idea is ludicrous that dumb terminals, hooked into a cloud we can't control, will please anyone but porn addicts, email junkies, and evil dictators.

Navneet's entire future vision is predicated on the assumption that most users would rather give up consistency of use and personal data security, in order to avoid ghastly indignities like an occasional PC upgrade.

The bottom line is:

Anyone with a real working knowledge of PC's and how they function would never risk the security of their data and the guaranteed promise of local hardware's consistent performance, just to satisfy the latest Orwellian ploy of techno-tycoons.