I’d like to start with some cloud access please . . . .

My tendency is to write when I’m in the air. Thankfully for you, it’s not every time I’m in the air or I’d be writing a lot; a really lot! There’s something, I want to say, ‘thought provoking’ or ‘liberating’ about sitting in a plane for eleven hours, but that’s not quite the sentiment I’m looking for. More like ‘mind-numbing’ I think. There certainly is time to think when you’re staring out the window at the clouds and listening to “the cabin crew’s favourite music choice” (!!!). I suspect the propensity to think and write is also something to do with that dispossessed feeling you get travelling on business. There’s an imposed normality to it that somehow doesn’t quite match the reality; a desensitisation to the excess of walking down ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas, realising that driving down 101 south of San Francisco in a Mustang is basically a rubbish experience and moving back and forth through so many time zones so quickly you neither know what day it is, nor what country you’re in. All this, I think, contributes to my choice of travel companions; three friends I wouldn’t be without.

The first two are obvious. Passport. There’s a year left on my current one, which is held together with security stickers thanks mainly to Virgin Atlantic. They never seem to come off so I just leave them. Nobody seems to object (apart from a ‘tut’ from the lady at the United check-in desk). So until I can ‘carry’ my passport on my phone I’m ‘sticking’ to the paper variety. Not even biometric, for the time being at least – old school, analogue, physical.

Wallet – again, obvious. Not going far without that. Specifically the corporate card. It really is my flexible friend. (Wait, wrong brand and twenty years out of date). Anyway, my flexible friend, except for right now. It’s just packed up, on the first day of a week of travelling. Log in and find out what’s going on. Wrong password. Ugh. Email me a new one, except of course the email never arrives, so I ring the helpline which is delighted tell me, having entered all my details, etc. that they are super busy (when aren’t they) and that the next available agent will answer my call, which is important to them, in a week or so. That’s all outstanding because fortunately I’m not busy of course, so let me know when it suits you for me to contact you, why don’t you. Clearly, said organisation is not alone in this approach. Ok well I have to get in a plane so I guess I’ll find out when I get there whether or not whatever the issue is, can be sorted quickly, or not, or whether I’m stuck in a foreign country with limited means of payment.

So, on to the third and final item. My phone. Again it’s the same for most people probably. I can pretty much do without a laptop, iPad, etc. if I have my phone but the interesting thing is that it isn’t the phone as such that I want to carry with me. Yes, ok so I have a non-cabin crew chosen selection of music on there should I need it on a flight, but the reality is that it’s largely a means of accessing my stuff that’s elsewhere. What I’m seeing as I stare out the window at the clouds is that ‘the cloud’ however you choose to define and use it is becoming ever-more pervasive and yet less and less visible. Less distinct. There’s an assumption on my part that wherever in the world I land I’ll switch on my cloud access device and be able to get to all my stuff. When it’s offline it’s basically a brick. The concept of amount of data, cost, location and all the other practicalities go out of the window. It’s not a ‘check-me-out, nice-to-have’ any more, it’s a need – an expectation. With the type of capability I can have at my fingertips now if I don’t have what I need with me I can typically get what I need (in a business sense, you understand) generally straight away.

All this presents me with a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is two-fold. From a personal perspective, who backs up the cloud? As I noted previously, there’s all sorts of apps connecting to all sorts of other apps and moving data around, etc. Is it all protected. The answer, presumably, is “no idea, but I hope so.” Facebook, for instance. The average user has over 200 personal photos uploaded. Given that there are now more than one billion Facebook users (apparently) there’s an interesting set of question buried in there somewhere, The second part of course is, who backs up the cloud from a business perspective. But it’s more than that isn’t it? Who keeps the cloud available – not the cloud itself but the stuff in it. There are so many variables. Availability isn’t just knowing its there. Surely it’s being able to get it wherever and whenever I want it. Today was a classic example. Rather than having an app to show my mobile boarding pass, today’s airline prefer to text me a URL which I browse to on my phone, except of course when you’ve had your phone tucked away and it has no signal so you’re boarding pass is, well, still in the cloud, so to speak. Interesting.  If I can get it to the cloud and secure it on its way to, and in the cloud can I also help to ensure its availability as and when it’s needed. Gone are the days of sitting in from of a PC and connecting to a fileshare.

So herein lies the opportunity. Is it feasible to have all that stuff backed-up, available when and where I want it, shareable with whom I want whilst being protected all the time in case I leave my cloud access device in a yellow cab? From a device, available to me on another device or to someone else I choose on their device. Here’s hoping the answer is yes but that it’s also possible just to rely on my other two friends. Passport and wallet. Neither of them are very ‘cloudy’ but then generally when I take them of my pocket, at least I don’t get a ‘no service’ problem!

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Everything has gone cloudy. Can you see me?

Every second organisation and person is venturing into “cloud” at the moment it seems; this new technology that’s going to make everything right in the world. I have a couple of side issues with that anyway – its not actually ‘new’ at all and how many people understand what ‘cloud’ actually refers to? That’s not the point though. For the purposes of right now, I’m going to use ‘cloud’ to refer to any application which is hosted by, or which hosts my information, elsewhere – in another place or organisation. No doubt you’ll see the limitations and flaws of that definition, but for this piece, it servers a purpose.

What I’ve been looking for recently is a way of better organising myself. Not that I’m a total disaster, but it seems that with all these ‘i-devices’ there really ought to be a great way to share my information . . with myself (?) – not all information, but things like tasks, plans, and so on. I’ve tried a few apps recently because it seems that the in-built and standard Microsoft apps aren’t quite flexible enough or joined-up enough to really address my needs. A couple worthy of note are http://www.rememberthemilk.com which looks great and works well except for the fact that Outlook integration and real-time sync are paid for extras and I’m convinced at this stage that I can meet my needs for less or better still, my favourite price – free. The one I’ve really been trying to use and I think I have settled on though is http://www.wunderlist.com. There are apps for iPhone, iPad and Mac which is great because I find an app to be much more convenient than a web page on Mac and apps for the other devices. There’s a raft of things that it allows me to do and it too looks really nice. My ask to the WunderKinder folks is: please add location-based awareness to task lists – for those of us who create lists to remember things but forget to look at the lists, its invaluable if you’re iPhone pops up a reminder when you arrive at home, work supermarket. The inbuilt iPhone task tool does it averagely. Remember the Milk does it well because its easy to define your chosen locations for reminders.

But this too is beside the point – apologies for the foray into apps. What struck me as I was trying these things out was two things. The cliché question of “where is my data actually going” which I’m less bothered about, although its an interesting question. Should we be worried? Depends on the company I suppose but its hard to tell these days. If its Symantec that’s hosting your data then you’re safe. If its a small app-providing company, what do you think? Hard to tell how much infrastructure there is behind this stuff. Presumably a fair bit, even if the app is free. More concerning for me though is the ‘social’ side of all of these apps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of social media. So many services and apps I’ve looked at signing up to recently have asked whether I would like to sign up using my Twitter or Facebook account and if not, whether, once signed up, I would like to share my activity within the app with those social media services. As an average user, how much do any of us actually know about who can view information that we’re creating in these apps or data that we’re storing in these place – are we inadvertently sharing that information when we assumed it was private. Seriously, who actually reads the fine print? Worse still are the default sharing sites – you will share or you can’t sign up for the service. There’s raising awareness of your app or service to gain new members and then there’s forcing users to share only for the benefit of the app or service itself. That’s an instant no-go for me.

So lots of thoughts there but here’s another – if my information is stored somewhere else and that’s fine with me, what happens if my information is lost, damaged or otherwise at the place its being held? I backup the data on my laptop and I have been doing so for years. If that information was being stored on a local server in your workplace chances are that its being backed up too, chances are by Backup Exec, in fact (note: “Who’s Looking After Your Clouds?” – check out further down my blog) but what about cloud? Cloud, as in public cloud – the one your app data is being held in. From my [work-head] perspective its no different. The backup of that data just happens somewhere else because the data is somewhere else. From another perspective you have to ask a couple of things: how much information am I sharing and with whom and if the answers could be ‘lots’ and ‘a lot of people’ because you just don’t know and therefore there’s a risk to that data, how well is it being protected in case something does happen in that ‘somewhere else’. Do you actually know (have seen face-to-face in the last couple of years) all of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers? What’s the risk and what’s the protection against that risk like? Security is one thing, but backup is always the last line of defence. So interestingly as everything is going ‘cloudy’ its possible that we can see each other better than ever – perhaps more than we’d like.