tsites computer tuition, website design, network security

The problem with Cloud Software

In this day and age, everything is expected to be 'in-the-cloud'. This is as vague as you might think. Anything in the cloud is typically not something you have physical access to. It's not something you own as such. It's likely some kind of service you have to pay for on a monthly basis.

As an example, and I'm going to show my age here. CDs are now considered old-skool. Back when we used to buy all our music on CDs, you paid your money once, and it was yours. Forever. You could pick it up off your shelf and play it whenever you wanted. You didn't need internet access to play it, and neither did you have to login and verify yourself first before it would let you play your music.

You certainly also never had to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of just owning it.

Then Apple, Spotify (and others before them) came along, and that was probably the turning point. You suddenly needed to have a valid subscription to their service, whereby you'd pay each month, and in return you could listen to all the music you'd already purchased.

This gradually crept into the mainstream computer use, with software developers insisting that you'd pay for their product 'as-a-service'. Apple with iCloud, Microsoft with it's entire Windows Operating system being more of-a-service, iTunes, Netflix, Adobe, and all the rest, all jumped on the 'as-a-service' subscription bandwagon.

So what's wrong with that then?

When it comes to music, and films - that's bad enough. People don't want to have to pay just to re-watch any films they may own, or try and play their music and find they have to dig out some long-forgotten password.

But for many, it's the monthly amount that these companies take. £6 here and £3 there doesn't seem like a lot, but when you stack it up over a year it quickly adds up. Plus with all these little micro-transactions that people usually forget about - and everything increasingly being subscription based, it's easy to see where these companies are making their money.

And what about your data? If you were just trying to store your own files and photos to a cloud service, you have to be very mindful of who you choose. Personally, I'll never put anything such as finances and passwords into a cloud service. It's just asking for trouble.

Advocates of cloud storage and cloud software will point towards encryption as being some kind of magic-bullet that solves all the worries around cloud security. They will assert that if your files are encrypted, then you need not worry.

However, encrypted or not, if you put info on someone else's server - they now have it forever. Given enough time to decode the encryption algorithm, they could read the encrypted data. With advances in AI, leaps in Neural Engine processor technology (and if quantum computing ever goes mainstream), it's only a matter of time before any encryption is rendered obsolete.

But above all these things, it's the price you are expected to pay for these cloud services. Okay - it's going to seem like I have a grudge or an axe to grind against Adobe here. I don't have an issue with Adobe specifically, but I don't agree with their practice of forcing people into the cloud model without offering a non-subscription alternative.

There are plenty of other companies who work this way too (Microsoft, Apple) and increasingly more and more each day.

I'm just using Adobe as an example, as they are the company behind one of the largest cloud-orientated, revenue-generating instances of this software - the 'Adobe Creative Cloud'. My friend who works in a design studio now has to pay the princely sum of £21.12 each month. Not too bad you might think, as they are using it to make money. True, however this is PER user. He has 106 staff that currently switch between Photoshop, Illustrator (for techinical drawing and templates), and between InDesign for page layout. So this £21.12 has now risen to £2238.72 each and every month. (£26,864.64 a year) - that's a cost he has to pass on to his clients. So everyone ends up funding Adobe in this case.

Gone are the days of having an install DVD and buying it once. This business now spends more each month alone with Adobe than they ever did yearly.

...and perhaps that's the point. When did everyone get so greedy?

This amounts to an obscene amount of money, and I'm sure there are software subscriptions that go even higher than this each month. I imagine a larger design studio, of maybe 1000 employees or more, which means Adobe are suddenly raking in over £21k each and every month - (£253,440 a year!).

The other annoying aspect of cloud software - when the service is unavailable. Of course, if you have everything stored 'locally' (rather than remotely, on some server somewhere), then you know it's always going to be available. Plus you can manage your own backups, you are not at the mercy of any unexpected updates (more on this in a sec), and you are also in complete control of your own data. The trade off is that you have to pay for the initial cost of setting up your own backup drive, and you have to manage your own data.

This last point is why cloud software has become so engrained into daily computer use. If something is fully automatic, and you don't have to think about it, then Cloud storage was always going to catch on. Versus the alternative of having to set up your own self-hosted solution, make sure it's isolated fully from any external network, yet making sure only you can get to it. It does take some time and thought, and plenty of configuration. This puts probably 90% of people off - they just think it's ultimately too hard to self-host, and that (pick any cloud-hosting provider) is fine. 'Everyone is using them, so they must treat my data as private'.

Cloud storage companies, and producers of cloud software's argument is that you pay for the subscription to 'remain updated', 'to have the latest software and features available'. But really, honestly. Is it worth it? When did Adobe products become such a vital piece of network infrastructure that they require patching constantly - why can't it just be done once and done right? Why is there a need for any of this to be online at all? Computer CPUs are at the point these days where any AI algorithms can function purely offline. Automatically removing people from photographs, working out perspective corrections on that document you were trying to photograph, and removing a mesh-fence from someone stood behind it - these are all examples of uses that would have seemed impossible just 5-7 years ago.

Now though, the processing power modern computers (and even smartphones) posess means that this is possible with no reliance to a server or network connection of any type. So if it doesn't need an internet connection, then knock that on the head. Do these kinds of things locally, keep the data on the machine, and don't rely on cloud storage.

The other annoying aspect of cloud software can be the never-ending updates.

You have been happily using a piece of software for months, then one day (usually when you rely on it working the most), it'll insist on an update. And usually with cloud-based software this happens automatically (as it's a service don't you know!). So, you have absolutely no choice in the matter. You let it do it's update, and go to open it again, only to be confronted with something like this:

This is nothing more than a bad user experience, and will probably make the user of the program look to change the software for an alternative program before they change their entire operating system. After all, the program insisted it needed to be updated, only to then be incompatible afterwards. I see this all too often, and being cloud-based software, there's no way to roll back to a previous version.

A better option, and a better user experience would be something like this:

Get rid of the subscription model, the mandatory forced updates, and the mindset behind them. The option to update (or not) should always be up to the end user.

If you want to talk security, then best practice is ultimately keep it offline and limit who has physical access to it. Plain and simple.

How are you going to hack into and gain access to any data, if that data is on an unplugged drive, behind a locked door?

I know it's always a bad idea to make predictions, as more often than not, they have a habit of being wrong. However, I can see how the entire argument for self-hosting may go full-circle. Everything used to be self-hosted at one point. Sharing to any cloud storage was hugely frowned upon, and backups of data were only under one roof. With the monthly costs of everything rising, individuals and businesses looking to economise where they can - they might be considering if they really need that costly cloud storage subscription; can they be doing it cheaper by hosting these things themselves, and ultimately is it more in line with GDPR requirements if you have it in the building. The answer to that last GDPR point is probably yes - if you know that you (and only you) have access to that data, you can personally vouch for how securely it's stored.


Back to Forum Listing