Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Clouds and evolution

Suddenly it seems as if one's whole life is on replay.

This time it's cloud storage. Definite deja vu.

Back in 1988 we deployed Dec's PCSA (later known as pathworks). This was a bit of software that let you export a user's filestore on a VAX/VMS cluster to a pc as if it was remotely mounted disk on a server.

This let you do a whole lot of things:
  • access or ftp your files from anywhere you could get to the vax from
  • run complex batch analyses on VMS and put the results into an excel spreadsheet
  • use wordperfect on VMS remotely from home and be able to work on the same document from your desk the next day
  • share printing services and printers
you also could do the same thing using pc-nfs - or one of the other pc-client nfs implementations. (We did).

PC-NFS had the advantage of not being tied to any vendor - we started off mounting filestore via SGI Irix boxes, moved to an mixture of Sun and Auspex - for home directory serving - and ended up with NetApp replacing the Auspex. The users probably didn't notice - or care very much as long as it stayed working.

But then the world shrank. Everyone had a networked pc and running software locally replaced running applications in shared environments. So everyone had a copy of word, excel and the rest, ran them locally and just emailed documents around. The idea of shared directories kind of went away - I remember someone from Microsoft at the end of the nineties having trouble with the shared directory concept. At the time I thought 'How wierd'. I should have paid more attention - the meta story was that you could do it all with exchange and public folders (and later on with stuff like sharepoint). No (apparent) folders or filesystem. Stuff exists in a way that makes sense to you. Think collections, think repositories, think content/document management.

And then laptops got really common. And if they were offsite they quite often didn't have a server connection - backup, synchronisation, automated application upgrades, just sort of died because they were just too hard. Everything comes down to logistics. So remote access to sharepoint, or your content management solution started becoming important.

And then of course people started having multiple machines - one at work, one at home, a netbook for travelling, an iPad. And suddenly people started having the 'bugger, it's on my other machine' moment.

A lot.

And we started seeing solutions like 'Go to my PC', and rather more cleverly Dropbox with it's shared storage and sychronisation. Clever because it not only provides remote storage but local copies for when you can't get a network connection, or indeed if the DropBox server goes down, and having two copies measn that you have a backup.

Likewise, Google Docs, Gmail and the like mean that you can access your email and documents from whereever there's a browser, again divorcing you from the need to have your files on that machine and to have that machine with you. Likewise the Gladinet cloud desktop give you a way of accessing cloud storage where you have machine specific mounts.

But really, things like windows live skydrive are really just giving you the 1988 PCSA experience:
  • your files live in a common location
  • you can control access to them
  • you can access them from any location you have network access
  • network access is not platform dependent
and cloud compute just brings back the days of VMS batch jobs (well conceptually anyway).

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