Big Tin

Big tin: IT infrastructure used by organisations to run their businesses. And other stuff too when I feel like it…

Is the cloud letting consumers down?

The promise of cloud services has, by and large, been fulfilled. Back in the day, and right up to the present day still, the big issue has been security: is your data safe?

What this question is really asking is whether you can retrieve your data quickly in the event of a technological melt-down. You know the kind of thing: an asteroid hits your business premises, a flood or fire makes your office unusable for weeks or months, or some form of weird glitch or malware makes your data unavailable, and you need to restore a backup to fix it.

All these scenarios are now pretty much covered by the main cloud vendors so, from a business perspective, what’s not to like?

Enter the consumer

Consumers – all of us, in other words – are also users of cloud services. Whether your phone uploads photos to the manufacturer’s cloud service, or you push terabytes of multimedia data up to a big provider’s facility, the cloud is integrated into everything that digital natives do.

The problem here is that, when it comes to cloud services, you get what you pay for. Enterprises will pay what it takes to get the level of service they want, whether it’s virtual machines for development purposes that can be quick and easy to set up and tear down, or business-critical applications that need precise configuration and multiple levels of redundancy.

Consumers on the other hand are generally unable to pay enterprise-level cash but an increasing number have built large multimedia libraries and see the cloud as a great way of backing up their data. Cloud providers have responded to this demand in various ways but the most common is a bait-and-switch offer.

Amazon’s policy changes provide the latest and arguably the most egregious example. In March 2015, it initiated, all for just £55 a year, an unlimited data storage service, not just photos as Google and others were already offering. Clearly many people saw this as a massive bargain and, although figures are not publicly available, many took it up.

Amazon dumps the deal

But in May 2017, just over two years later, Amazon announced that the deal was going to be changed, and subscribers would have to pay on a per-TB basis instead. This was after many subscribers – according to user forums – had uploaded dozens of terabytes over a period of months at painfully slow, asymmetrical data rates.

Now they are offered on a take it or leave it basis an expensive cloud service – costing perhaps three or four times more depending on data volumes – and a whole bunch of data that it will be difficult to migrate. On Reddit, many said they have given up on cloud providers and are instead investing in local storage.

This isn’t the first time such a move has been made by a cloud provider: bait the users in, then once they’re committed, switch the deal.

Can you trust the cloud?

While cloud providers are of course perfectly at liberty to change their terms and conditions according to commercial considerations, it’s hard to think of any other consumer service where such a major change in the T&Cs would be implemented because of the fear of user backlash. Especially by one of the largest global providers.

The message that Amazon’s move transmits is that cloud providers cannot be trusted, and that a deal that looks almost too good to be true will almost certainly turn out to be just so, even when it’s offered by a very large service provider who users might imagine would be more stable and reliable. That the switch comes at a time when storage costs continue to plummet makes it all the more surprising.

In its defence, Amazon said it will honour existing subscriptions until they expire, and only start deleting data 180 days after expiry.

That said, IT companies need to grow up. They’re not startups any more. If they offer a service and users in all good faith take them up on it, as the commercial managers at Amazon might have expected, they should deal with it in a way that doesn’t potentially have the effect of destroying faith and trust in cloud providers.

It’s not just consumers who are affected. It shouldn’t be forgotten that business people are also consumers and the cloud purchasing decisions they make are bound to be influenced to a degree by their personal experiences as well as by business needs, corporate policy and so on.

So from the perspective of many consumers, the answer to the question of whether you can trust the cloud looks pretty equivocal. The data might still be there but you can’t assume the service will continue along the same or similar lines as those you originally signed up to.

Can you trust the cloud? Sometimes.

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Filed under: Cloud computing, Consumer, Storage, Technology

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