This is interesting, my co-worker Ken and I were just discussing the “data in the cloud” scenerio that’s been painted out over the last couple years. Google just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and with services like Docs and Spreadsheets and iGoogle people have been painting a picture that the desktop emphasis will go away and all our data will live in the clouds. By “data in the cloud” they mean that all your personal files, information, etc will live on someone else’s servers, be that Google or Microsoft or some yet to launch company. This type of scenerio would mean that you’d have access to your files ANYWHERE you have access to a computer. If it was an online service, it wouldn’t even matter what type ofÂ computer you’re access it from.
I think a lot of this is very premature for a lot of reasons. For one, certain applications for the very near future just couldn’t perform well over the Internet. For instance, graphics applications like Photoshop or high end video games. Being a privacy nerd, I also question allowing any company to hold all my personal docs like financial records (yes, yes, I know most of that is already online anyway).
In his weekly tech column for Popular Mechanics, Glenn Derene predicts that everyone will have a home server to network their house within 10 yearsâ€”rendering Apple’s .Mac accounts and Google’s productivity software useless. This too, is premature and overstated. There are several emerging technologies, for instance HP’s MediaSmart ServerÂ and Microsoft’s Home ServerÂ that will provide the ability to store your music, photos, and other files on a central hub-like hard drive, accessible from every PC in your house. They’ll help protect your files and your PCs with automatic backup and a simple restore process. They will even allow you to access all your data remotely. Sounds a lot like the iGoogle and .MAC platforms right? It is. It’s JUST like it.
What we have are two competing ways to address the same solution… anytime, anywhere access to all your data. But will either eclipse the other? I think it will come down to timing. Broadband adoption is widespread now and there are technologies that comin up that will continue to push the amount of available bandwidth. This will further enable the possibility of BOTH of these solutions. As it stands now, a home server would clearly be more feasible for local backups of all your personal data. But services like Flickr and iGoogle, etc continue to allow you ways to share photo’s and music in an online way. So you can see that each is making inroads into providing this type of functionality. Clearly, Google wants your data in the clouds. The more data they have on you, the more they can narrow in and provide pin point ads that target you.
Personally, I think each will have their place. In the long term (and by this I mean the 5-10+ year range) I think that web enabled services like these could potentially overtake the home server market. My mom would have no idea how to configure a home server. She wouldn’t have the desire to do so either. On the flip side, as the boomers age and Gen X/Y start getting into the workforce, having home lives, kids with connected devices… well, lets just say they’ve grown up on technology and would be more comfortable with setting up a home server. By that time they’ll have the income to buy that infrastructure for their house (provided it’s easy enough to configure). Will the typical end user REALLY be savvy enough to do it themselves? Clearly, the more technical people may desire to hold all their own data themselves (that’s be my preference). People may not realize by Vista already has the underpinning to support the MS Home Server. It wasn’t developed as an afterthought. Clearly, Microsoft thought it out well ahead of time. They’ve been positioning XBox as the central media center. I’m sure we’ll see XBox able to talk to Home Server. While they’re clearly working towards a data in the cloud solution as well, but they don’t want to let go of their desktop market. They make the vast majority of their money is that arena.
How this will all play out could depend on several things. How reliable will the home server systems be? Will they be easy to setup and come with redundancy? Will people get hip to the fact that if there data is stored on a Google server somewhere that it’s being used to serve them ads? What are the implications from a legal standpoint of someone else hosting your data? Will it be easier for the government to get to it? Will the home server market be able to keep up with all the decentralized offerings on the web? Clearly it will support file storage and backup, remote access; but what about a blogging platform? What about photo sharing? Can it keep up with the latest web offerings fast enought to provide a single solution for what most users need?
Centralized storage and data manipulation is the key — whether that be in the home or the workplace. We are just now entering into this market and I think we are going to see some really good innovations come of it.