February 2, 2010 spout

We need cloud apps to use cloud drives

Reading about Windows Azure Drive reminded me of a conversation I had when I was hanging out with my Microsoft brethren last week. We started by talking about how apps target a particular OS and how Microsoft’s bread-and-butter is making sure that apps continue to work forever on Windows so that our customers can upgrade their OS and still get their work done.

We then moved on to wondering whether Apple was gonna do the same thing when it came to letting iPhone/iPod Touch apps run on the new iPad. As it turns out, we heard from the iPad announcement that Apple is doing just that (although in a particularly strange single-tasking way).

From there we moved on to how it’s really not a big deal whether you ditch your current smart phone, e.g. Dash, iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid, etc., for another one because nobody really keeps data on their phones anymore anyway. It’s either synch’d to their PC, e.g. photos, music, etc., or it’s kept in the cloud. In fact, without realizing it, I already have a great deal of info in the cloud:

  • Exchange: email, contacts, appointments
  • TweetDeck: twitter search terms
  • Evernote: random notes
  • Amazon: Kindle books
  • TripIt: trip itineraries
  • Mint: account and budget information
  • Facebook: social contacts
  • LinkedIn: business contacts

Further, I could keep my pictures in Flickr, my documents on Live and I’m sure there are many, many more. This is fabulous, because I can move from platform to platform on my phone and it’s in a vendor’s interest to make sure that each major platform has their app on it and because it’s a smaller, more focused platform, it’s easier for them to do.

The problem here, of course, is that we’ve moved from mobile vendor lock-in to cloud data storage lock-in. What happens when Amazon decides to repossess another book or Mint decides to start charging or Flickr goes out of business? Unlike the physical storage business (you know, little garages where people keep stuff when their relatives die or they’re going through a divorce), the logical storage business doesn’t have any legal responsibility to keep the doors open for 30 days when they go out of business to let me move my stuff somewhere else.

And this has already happened. When GeoCities went out of business, all of those people’s web sites were gone. When live.com decided to clean out my set of RSS feeds, there wasn’t any notification or recourse. I’m sure there are more similar stories and there will be lots more in the future.

And because I know there will be more, I’m worried.

Right now, as we move our apps and storage in the cloud, we have a very different dynamic then apps and storage on the desktop. Because apps on the desktop use storage I own, I can back up that data, import it into other programs and, if I feel like it, write programs against it. It’s my data. The vendor doesn’t ever even see it, let alone gate my access to it.

On the other hand, cloud app vendors ARE gating access to my data; I have to use their apps to get to it. Unless there’s some pressure, you can be damned sure the Flickrs and Mints and Amazons aren’t going to be giving up the data they’ve got a wall around now so that I can take it to a competitor.

Which is why we need control over the storage for cloud apps just as much as we do for desktop apps. I want to go to a vendor I trust, e.g. Amazon, Microsoft, GE, i.e. someone big, someone you know is gonna be around for a while, and purchase cloud storage from them. I want to be able to use it as a HD for my desktop data (like Azure Drive and other products before it), including general-purpose backup, but I also want my cloud apps to store their data there, too. That way, if they start charging or they go out of business or I want to go somewhere else with my data, I can do so.

I expect to pay for this service, of course. That way, the cloud storage folks make money, the cloud apps folks make money for using my cloud storage and I get peace of mind knowing that I’ll always have access to my data, no matter what happens to the cloud app or the cloud app vendor, just like today.

We need cloud apps to use cloud drives. Call your congressman!