By Todd R. Weiss
Gartner just released a report this week saying that they envision "personal clouds" taking over for our PCs by 2014. If that's true, I think we're all in trouble.
According to the Gartner report, such personal clouds will make our desktop PCs obsolete. "The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the center of users' digital lives" the company reported in a press release about the 11-page study.
"Major trends in client computing have shifted the market away from a focus on personal computers to a broader device perspective that includes smartphones, tablets and other consumer devices," said Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans, according to the statement. "Emerging cloud services will become the glue that connects the web of devices that users choose to access during the different aspects of their daily life."
The study argues that the "personal cloud will gradually replace the personal computer as the location where individuals keep their personal content, access their services and personal preferences, and center their digital lives. It will be the glue that connects the web of devices they choose to use during the different aspects of their daily life. The personal cloud will entail the unique collection of services, Web destinations, and connectivity that will become the home of their computing and communication activities. Users will see it as a portable, always (usually) available place where they go for all their digital needs."
Not so fast, I say.
I'm not so sure that putting all of my stuff – my work, my digital life, my everything – into a personal cloud instead of on a PC or laptop would be a step forward. I love the idea of backing up to the cloud and using the cloud, but having it replace my PC, my laptop, my productivity tools? That's unrealistic to me.
Here's why I think that's ridiculous: I recently endured a personal cloud failure when a must-have cloud service disappeared, my Cardscan At Your Service automated data backup application, and I wrote about it in this blog last week. That failure taught me several things about the cloud, including that as wonderful as it can be, nothing beats controlling one's own destiny and one's own data and applications.
Not that there's anything wrong with having your data and apps out there on the cloud as a second place to keep them, but let's just say if you want my PCs and laptops you're going to have to take them from me with major force.
And I don't think your business should give PCs and laptops up so easily either.
Sure, I love the flexibility that the cloud provides, from being able to access complex applications without having to buy, install and configure them for businesses, to allowing us to try new apps with a minimum of fuss and expense. Those are great attributes.
But if you think I'm placing all of my faith and my data ONLY on the cloud without having it sitting here on a hard drive or two and a backup drive and all the rest, you are crazy.
I, for one, will be fighting a trend like that by creating my own personal PC component and hard drive stash so I can build and maintain my own PCs long into the future.
Here's why: I love technology, but I love it most when it works for me, not dictates to me. I want technology equipment and services in my life that do what I want them to do, that help me get my work done, that make my life easier, that let me do my work anywhere I am from home to vacation spots to everywhere in between.
By doing my work on the cloud instead of on a hard drive in a PC or laptop, I feel I'm losing control of my information, my data, my lifeline for my business. That's not something I'm willing to hand over to a cloud service without concerns.
Why am I so adamant? Because Internet connections go down. Because networks go down. Because severe weather happens and takes connectivity with it. These are all of the things that can happen when you least expect it or want them to happen and they are the things that can and do take our businesses down with them.
That's not smart business to put all of our data there without also keeping it back on our fully-featured PCs and laptops with their DVD drives, full-sized keyboards and lovely video monitors. Because when your connections to the cloud are down, getting your work done isn't necessarily so easy. And things do shut down.
I know that Gartner and other experts are in love with this idea that smartphones and tablet computers and other small, compact user-friendly devices are going to replace the PCs and laptops we now use for our work. But I'm not as convinced.
Don't get me wrong – I'm not a disbeliever in the cloud. I'm just a realist about technology.
Remember all those predictions that experts have made for 20 years or more that offices of the future would be paperless? Yeah, right. Just like the paperless office predictions, I'm not so sure that the PC-less office is going to be here any time soon, either.
And that’s not because it’s a bad idea, but I think it's because we are attached to our devices, and even more so, we want immediate, unfettered and local access to our data.
Case in point: I love having my iPhone 4S with me all the time and having the ability to instantly get email or check a Web site or a Facebook page. But I curse the tiny, horrible, cramped, error-inducing and useless virtual keyboard every time I have to use it.
The iPhone as a laptop replacement? Not even close.
More than anything, though, it's that affinity I have for controlling the fate of my personal data on my own drives, without fear that it's only out there on the cloud.
I want to see it and touch it and have it right there where I know I have copies and can work on things even if the network is done, and even if my Internet provider is offline.
If I'm working and I lose the connection on the cloud, my work can stop. That's not something that users are willing to accept, no matter how cool and convenient and high tech a personal cloud might be.
The cloud is a tool, not a foolproof, perfect and always available resource, just as networks do go down, systems fail and outages occur.
I'd agree with Gartner that some people and maybe even some businesses will go to personal clouds in replacing PCs eventually. But businesses that have mission-critical applications and responsibilities, that is likely another story.
OK, so I have made poor predictions in the past, too. I'm the fellow who asked my father-in-law back in 1993, when he bought an Apple Macintosh LC III computer for his home, "Pa, what in the world do you need a computer for?"
Yes I am that man. I admit it.
But this personal cloud prediction by Gartner is different. I just don't see this one happening.
What do you think?
Are you excited about the possibility of personal clouds or will you stick with a PC or laptop or other device that physically stores your data?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. Weiss covers enterprise IT from cloud computing to Hadoop to virtualization, enterprise applications such as ERP, CRM and BI, Linux and open source, and more. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies. You can follow him on Twitter @TechManTalking. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org