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(First of all, I beg pardon to Spanish readers: quiero excusarme de nuevo con quienes solo entiendan el español, lo siento pero de nuevo he caído en la comodidad de no traducir estas líneas extraídas de un proyecto de I+D en el que estoy colaborando).

A few day ago we advance a couple of challenges that Personal Clouds must solve in order to facilitate their massive adoption by users and companies. Focusing on that subject, the following ideas are an excerpt of the “state of the art” of an European R&D project (“CloudSpaces”) where we’re collaborating (leaded by Pedro García, teacher at University “Rovira i Virgili”).

In the next few years, users will require ubiquitous and massive network storage to handle their ever-growing digital lives. Every user will handle hundreds of gigabytes to store digital information including photos, videos, work documents and communication flows like emails or social communication. 

To meet this demand, current trends show an increasing number of enterprises and users migrating their data to Cloud storage providers. A major selling point for Cloud computing is that it offers on-demand storage capacity that otherwise might not be affordable.

In this line, the Personal Cloud model is a user-centric solution to manage such massive amounts of digital information. Unlike application-centric models where data is tied to a specific application, user-centric models provide a personal storage service for user data.

The Personal Cloud model defines a ubiquitous storage facility enabling the unified and location agnostic access to information flows from any device and application. Commercial providers such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, or Ubuntu One are offering very popular Personal Cloud solutions that keep “in sync” the information from the different user devices. These solutions also permit information sharing with other users within the same Personal Cloud provider.

The popularity of these killer applications lies behind their easy-to-use Software as a Service (SaaS) storage facade to ubiquitous Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) storage resources like Amazon S3 and others. In a recent report, Forrester research forecasts a market of $12 billion in the US in paid subscriptions to personal clouds by 2016. This growing popularity of Personal Clouds is also attracting the major players in the market, and Google (with the all but finished Google Drive), Microsoft (with SkyDrive) or Apple (with iCloud) are offering integrated solutions in this field.

But Personal Clouds are in their infancy, and two major problems must be solved to facilitate their massive adoption by users and companies:

  1. First, there is a big privacy problem that precludes the adoption of this model by many users, companies and public institutions. Most Personal Clouds follow a simple centralized synchronization model that stores all information in the Cloud as a remote file system. The entire data management process is in the hands of the Cloud providers, so the users really lose control of where their information is stored and who can access it. The problem is that traditional means of privacy preservation like the use of personal encryption keys is against the business model of many Personal Cloud providers. In October 2011, for instance, Forbes Magazine published that Dropbox has 50 million users, of which 96% are employing a free account, which illustrates that Dropbox is subsidized by a minority of users who pay to obtain more than the free 2 GBs of storage space. To compete for the market share, many Personal Cloud providers, including Dropbox and the likes, offer value-added services that require the provider to retain a copy of the decryption keys. Reconciliation of privacy preservation and revenue growth rates is a big issue in today’s Personal Cloud model.
  2. Another important problem is the lack of interoperability between Personal Cloud services impeding information sharing, but also precluding information portability among them. This generates what is known as vendor lock-in: a best decision now may leave a customer trapped with an obsolete provider later, simply because the cost to switch from one provider to another is prohibitively expensive. This may lead to a kind of data inertia where the more data given to one provider, the more difficult it becomes to move. A clear example of vendor lock-in in the Personal Cloud is folder sharing. To join a shared folder, users need to have an account in the same Cloud provider, inciting users to inadvertently get stuck with the chosen Cloud vendor. In addition to the costs of switching data, the adoption of an alternative solution will require to set up a new account for every user and install software clients on their devices. This sunk cost may represent a major barrier to entry for small to mid-size businesses that cannot afford the redundancy that an enterprise-class infrastructure would cost.

CloudSpace project face up to both challenges and we hope its research activities bring new ideas and approaches to solve them, and let Tissat to improve StackSync service with even enhanced security features.