Is Personal Cloud As Disruptive As Personal Computer?

Jonathan Feldman| Informationweek

IT organizations are apt to react as badly to the 21st century’s PC as they did to the 20th century’s PC. Help them get over it.

When I first read about Western Digital’s “personal cloud” for consumer storage, I didn’t think much of it. It was just a NAS with some clever apps that provided remote access features. But I’m now predicting that a more pervasive distribution of personally owned compute and storage assets will change the face of IT as we know it. Here’s why:

The Snowden effect
The revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about the extent of NSA spying on, well, everyone have led to public distrust of the government, the major providers of public cloud services, and even the basic security protocols of the Internet. If privacy-minded folks have an easy alternative to “protocols invented with the help of government agencies” or “software created by those we now distrust” — in the form of private clouds — they’ll take them.

Honey, I shrunk the NAS
Seagate’s new Kinetic architecture, whereby hard drives can be directly attached to Ethernet without a server, is a game changer. If it’s widely adopted, it will change the building blocks of networked storage by making each drive into a network node, so that file objects can be stored or retrieved based on a unique ID.

Although vendors are aiming serverless hard drives and associated support apps at enterprise users, once startups start tinkering with these systems, an individual will have the redundancy of Amazon S3 with the physical security of a home NAS. What if you could put a couple of hard drives at your brother Larry’s house, and your home routers had apps on them that made sure that those hard drives synced with the ones at your house? Combine that setup with Western Digital’s “data anywhere” platform, and all of a sudden your data is physically secure.

Open-source software meets the maker movement and crowdfunding
The only way you can really know that a protocol implementation doesn’t have back doors is to use open source. Some might say that an open-source cloud stack isn’t sustainable, but the Linux market taught us that even though the horse we bet on might not win, the essential open-source product will continue on in some shape or form (think SuSE versus RedHat). Just as open-source Linux has shown up in video disc players, home routers, and other consumer products, expect open-source cloud computing to show up in consumer devices.

It’s also entirely reasonable to assume that new consumer devices will arrive specifically to scratch the itch of individuals who want the government and multinational companies to “stop watching us.”

The Google fiber effect
The bane of the personal Internet and the future personal cloud is asynchronous bandwidth — you can download but not upload at high speeds. That’s about to change. Google’s fiber optic networking effort isn’t just about providing synchronous broadband to Kansas City, Kansas; Austin, Texas; and Provo, Utah. It has also galvanized the telecom industry and kicked economic development pros into high gear now that they realize that cities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., are luring businesses away from them by creating commercial incubators centered on gigabit infrastructure. These new networks certainly will be speedy enough in both directions to support personal cloud computing.

No doubt, the notion of company employees moving all kinds of data into personally owned compute and storage clouds will freak out IT control freaks as much as employees doing the same with their personally owned devices. But “bring your own compute” and “bring your own storage” are going to happen, and the question is: Will it hit you unawares, or will you plan for it?

The best shield against any rogue IT activities in the enterprise will continue to be the IT organization’s credibility. Specifically, IT organizations must continue to engage with fellow employees in activities that make it clear that delivering value to business units and being a good partner is their number one charge — not arbitrary control freakishness.

If individuals think that their IT colleagues are punishers and not enablers, they’ll avoid having these conversations and delight in bypassing IT’s controls. If these same individuals feel that IT helps them to figure out how to use the latest personal productivity technology safely and within the organization’s rules, they’ll seek IT’s opinion before using those new tools, personal cloud or otherwise.


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