Personal Clouds

“The Cloud is coming”. Actually, it’s more like “The cloud is here”. It’s being forced upon us on every platform (Almost every platform, at least, Windows, OSX, iOS, Ubuntu and Android). With the spread of smartphones, the cloud now not only makes sense but is also useful.

Let me go back a step to make a distinction. There are two meanings for the word “The Cloud”:

Only an advancement in the first made the second possible. Giant software companies are now building these huge data centers that can be used in a very efficient way. Unlike before, when renting a server meant that you actually were allocated a physical server (or a folder on a server) in a certain data center. Those days, if the machine stopped, or the data center lost power that meant that your web site went offline. Now, your web application is hosted in a Virtual Machine that – along with 1000s or other VMs – form a layer between you and the physical server. Now, the server – or even the data center – can go offline and your application would still continue. Maybe with few minutes of downtime if you were running a single instance of VM.

Another advancement that is directly affecting these cloud services is the spread of smartphones and tablets. These cloud services play one of two roles:

In either case (and they’re very similar) the cloud is extremely useful. Being able to move seamlessly from one device to another is incredible and we’re just starting. In few years, we should be able to move from one device to another for a much larger number of applications that we do now. As more applications is built directly to the cloud, compared to now where web applications are modified to include these capabilities. While the cloud offer a great capability to users, it offers even bigger advantages to big software companies. They now control your digital life. I spent the last five years of my life writing all these tiny tweets, 140-characters at a time, all 36,000+ of them. Now, I can’t get them back. Twitter has sucked them into a void. They won’t let me download them. They won’t let me search them. They won’t let me even browse them. Meanwhile, Twitter is building this profile of my interests and feeding me all these ads about all the silly things I demonstrated that I care about. I can’t get out of Twitter, I’ve invested five of years into it. I’ve built networks of friends. I need twitter more than they need me, it seems. When you cut off 3rd party developers, or block my favorite desktop client or change the terms of services; all are things I don’t agree of, but not enough to make me leave the service. Same goes for many other services. After a while, there’s nothing you can do about changes to the service when you don’t agree of them. Google can change Google Reader by shutting down sharing, and force you to use Google+, but you won’t leave. Facebook can change their terms of service or privacy policy, and you would just click “I Accept”. Nothing you could do really. Let me sum up what I see is the problem with these services in three – not so – brief points:

You can look at these problems and think that they’re not very important or that you don’t affect you very much or even think that it’s a natural advancement or how computers work now. I see them as warning signs. There must be a solution. I consider the benefits of the cloud and cloud services to be huge. It’s something that you can’t live without once you get used to it. Living off the cloud is not an option. At its core, the cloud is a computer that is always on running a certain piece of software. Actually it’s some number of computers running each with a specific software. I have a Dropbox computer, a Gmail computer, a twitter computer, and so on. If I can get these pieces of software to run on my machine, and make that machine available online and accessible to my phone and other devices then I would have my own cloud. What I need is a Virtual Machine, only accessible to me (or any service/person I give and control permission to), that is running a server-side operating system and a software that replaces each service I’m using. It would have an email server, a calendar, a cloud storage service, a synchronization service, a node of social media, a blog, a Wiki, and any other type of cloud service I’m using. There are alternatives to a lot of the services that any user is using daily. Instead of Blogger, use your own Wordpress. Instead of Gmail, use SmarterMail, Zimbra, or Sendmail. Instead of Dropbox, use Tonido or SparkleShare. Instead of Flickr or Instagram, use OpenPhoto.

There are few services that doesn’t have great alternatives but they can be built. For such proposal to work, two three key issues have to be addressed:

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this idea. I’m certainly not the first to come forward with some sort of proposal for a Personal Cloud. I’m aware of at least one other proposal (by @windley) which can be found here but it’s more of a complete platform for personal clouds that require building a new type of operating system. Promising idea but strikes more as a Computer Science project rather than a piece of software than can be built and used in the near future. I think this could be a big project that brings together all the pieces of open source projects together in one proposal that stands side by side with current offers from Apple, Microsoft and Google. Not only that it would an alternative, but also it would be good for software and for the benefit of users.

Update: Earlier version of this post didn’t included Mobile Support as a key issue to be addressed when building personal clouds.