Sunday, July 08, 2012

Personal cloud services and why they are doomed to fail

"Cloud computing" has been getting a lot of buzz the last couple of years. Quite a few companies have jumped in and started offering various cloud-based services to consumers. These have included applications (Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365), collaboration (Zoho), storage/file-sharing (Dropbox, Box and SugarSync), music streaming (Amazon Cloud Player and Google Play), and video streaming (NetFlix and Blockbuster).

On paper, these are great products. You can access your documents, photos, or music from anywhere, you can share stuff between devices and other people -- anywhere where you have a internet connection. Use your computer, use your smartphone: it's all the same.

There's just one sticking point: your internet provider.

The problem:  bandwidth capping.

Once upon a time, we were told that broadband was the future - we'd all be connected, all the time. That was back in the day when your internet service provider sold you unlimited usage. And in a classic bait-and-switch, now that we, as a society, have accustomed ourselves to the convenience of constant internet availability (thanks to the selling job done by our providers), we learn that "unlimited" usage doesn't mean unlimited; it means what AT&T, Verizon and Time-Warner considers "reasonable" usage.

I currently get my broadband service from AT&T. I first signed up for DSL from them over 15 years ago, back when they were still Southwestern Bell. I was, in fact, *the* first person in Tarrant County to have DSL service installed. One of the big selling points at the time (along with speed) was Unlimited Usage.

Fast forward to last year when AT&T decided to boost their revenues by imposing a "reasonable" usage of 150 gigabytes per month cap. That may *seem* like a lot, but it breaks down to 5 GB a day. And that's per household, not per person. If you exceed this, they'll charge you $10 for every additional 50 GB you use.

AT&T isn't the only offender. Comcast caps out usage at 300 GB a month (with $10 for every additional 50 GB over that). Charter Cable has different caps depending on your level of service, they range from 100 GB to 500 GB. Looking over the Verizon site, they don't seem to have introduced caps -- yet.

Don't even get me started on data plans from wireless providers (I'm talking about you again, AT&T).

The usual line of crap from ISPs is that these caps will only affect a handful of "excessive" users, and that these "excessive" users are spoiling things for more "moderate" users by placing high demand on scarce network resources. They forget these users are the early adopters, power users, and techno-geeks that made broadband a successful product in the first place,

Think how big your hard drive is, then consider how fast backing that up to "the Cloud," is going to burn through your meager allotment of bandwidth. Or consider how likely you are to play back your cloud-stored music if listening burns 120 MB an hour. NetFlix users are especially screwed:  watching a single 2 hour HD movie will burn just over 3 and a half gig. If you live by yourself, this may not be an issue. If you have teenagers, or gamers, or (worst case) teenagers who are gamers, you are toast .

Since bandwidth is the bloodstream that carries data to and from these cloud services, capping bandwidth is like putting a tourniquet on an appendage. You cut the blood supply off, the appendage dies.

As long as we have bandwidth caps, these services will slowly wither and die. And when that happens, you can thank your internet service provider.


Mike Bishop7 said...

Great post! After talking to some coworkers about new technology recently, I have been reading blog posts on cloud services. I'm going to make sure to share this with my coworkers and friends who have also been talking about cloud services. Thank you for sharing this with us Dr.Ralph.

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