Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Cloud storage is not so great

I'm not big on cloud storage. I mean, I use Dropbox constantly, and I synchronise my pictures, movies and music collections across all my machines with Windows Live Mesh, but when it comes to tablet computers and the new age thin clients where on-gadget hard drive space is a dirty word, I get squeamish. I've seen too many web companies fail to be confident storing all my stuff online, even with Google. Does that make me a dinosaur or paranoid? I mean, Google isn't going anywhere any time soon, are they? So why can't I just keep my music collection there and stream it when I want it, rather than keeping it all available offline?

Offline storage is too important to give up. Walk 20 metres from your house. Now you are no longer on WiFi, but your limited mobile phone data connection. You still have access to your storage, true, but now say you want to watch a TV show. For simplicity, call that 200MB for a 45 minute show. How much bandwidth do you get, and could it keep up with the demand for even a single show per day? For me, the answer is "no", because I only get 200MB per month, which is pretty stingy, but still standard for the price I'm paying.

Before you get to watch your show, though, you also need excellent network coverage everywhere. There are still points on my train commute where the network disappears entirely, possibly because we are moving. That's mostly the fault of the train itself, I'm sure, but that doesn't change the fact that network-only storage is simply not workable for mobile entertainment at the level of TV shows. So what about music? 50MB per hour. If I have a 45-minute commute, that would use my entire monthly quota in 4 trips rather than 1. Provided there is adequate buffering, and you have a very generous quota, it might work for music and podcasts. A slight improvement, but far from perfect.

What does that leave you? Images and text, otherwise known as web pages or books. So cloud storage and streaming-only access is only good for what the internet of the 90s is good for. That's not how we use it any more.

Mokalus of Borg

PS - When I buy a tablet computer, it's going to need an SD card slot.
PPS - That rules out Google's Nexus 7.

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