Can cloud computing be entirely trusted?

November 10th, 2009

The Economist has been running a series of online Oxford Union style debates on topical issues — CEO pay, healthcare, climate change, etc. The latest one is on the cloud computing: This house believes that the cloud can’t be entirely trusted.

In his opening remarks, moderator Ludwig Siegele says

“The participants in this debate, including the three guest speakers, all agree that computing is moving into the cloud. “We are experiencing a disruptive moment in the history of technology, with the expansion of the role of the internet and the advent of cloud-based computing”, says Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft’s business division, which generates about a third of the firm’s revenues ($13 billion) and more than half of its profits ($4.5 billion) in the most recent quarter. Marc Benioff, chief executive of, the world’s largest SaaS provider with over $1.2 billion in sales in the past 12 months, is no less bullish: ‘Like the shift [from the mainframe to the client/server architecture] that roiled our industry in decades past, the transition to cloud computing is happening now because of major discontinuities in cost, value and function.'”

While the debate’s proposition suggests that security or privacy is its focus, it’s really a broader argument about how software services will be delivered in the future in which security is just one aspect.

“Whether and to what extent companies and consumers elect to hand their computing over to others, of course, depends on how much they trust the cloud. And customers still have many questions. How reliable are such services? What about privacy? Don’t I lose too much control? What if, for instance, changes its service in a way I do not like? Are such web-based services really cheaper than traditional software? And how easy is it to get my data if I want to change providers? Are there open technical standards that would make this easier?”

CloudCamp DC, 3-9pm Wed 12 Nov, Chantilly VA (free)

November 10th, 2008

There will a free CloudCamp ‘unconference’ in Chantilly VA (outside DC) from 3pm to 9pm on Wednesday 12 November.

“CloudCamp is an unconference where early adapters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas. With the rapid change occurring in the industry, we need a place we can meet to share our experiences, challenges and solutions. At CloudCamp, you are encouraged you to share your thoughts in several open discussions, as we strive for the advancement of Cloud Computing. End users, IT professionals and vendors are all encouraged to participate.”

Dell trying to trademark cloud computing

August 3rd, 2008

Cloud computing is a hot topic this year, with IBM, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Intel, HP and Amazon all offering, using or developing high-end computing services typically described as “cloud computing”. We’ve started using it in our lab, like many research groups, via the Hadoop software framework and Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud services.

Bill Poser notes in a post (Trademark Insanity) on Language Log that Dell as applied for a trademark on the term “cloud computing”.

It’s bad enough that we have to deal with struggles over the use of trademarks that have become generic terms, like “Xerox” and “Coke”, and trademarks that were already generic terms among specialists, such as “Windows”, but a new low in trademarking has been reached by the joint efforts of Dell and the US Patent and Trademark Office. Cyndy Aleo-Carreira reports that Dell has applied for a trademark on the term “cloud computing”. The opposition period has already passed and a notice of allowance has been issued. That means that it is very likely that the application will soon receive final approval.

It’s clear, at least to me, that ‘cloud computing’ has become a generic term in general use for “data centers and mega-scale computing environments” that make it easy to dynamically focus a large number of computers on a computing task. It would be a shame to have one company claim it as a trademark. On Wikipedia a redirect for the Cloud Computing page was created several weeks before Dell’s USPTO application. A Google search produces many uses of cloud computing in news articles before 2007, although it’s clear that it’s use didn’t take off until mid 2007.

An examination of a Google Trends map shows that searches for ‘cloud computing’ (blue) began in September 2007 and have increased steadily, eclipsing searches for related terms like Hadoop, ‘map reduce’ and EC2 over the past ten months.

Here’s a document giving the current status of Dell’s trademark application, (USPTO #77139082) which was submitted on March 23, 2007. According to the Wikipedia article on cloud computing, Dell

“… must file a ‘Statement of Use’ or ‘Extension Request’ within 6 months (by January 8, 2009) in order to proceed to registration, and thereafter must enforce the trademark to prevent removal for ‘non-use’. This may be used to prevent other vendors (eg Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Yahoo) from offering certain products and services relating to data centers and mega-scale computing environments under the cloud computing moniker.”

Five Cloud Computers and Information Sharing

July 28th, 2008

There is an interesting panel to open the Microsoft faculty research summit featuring Rick Rashid, Daniel Reed, Ed Felten, Howard Schmidt, and Elizabeth Lawley. Lots of interesting ideas, but one that got thrown out was the recent idea that maybe the world does only need five (cloud) computers. If something like this really does happen, then perhaps we’ll need to think even more aggressively about the information sharing issues — is there some way for me to make sure that I only share with (say) Google’s cloud the things that are absolutely needed. Once I have given some information to Google, can I still retain some control over it. Who owns this information now? If I do, how do I know that Google will honor whatever commitments it makes about how it will use or further share that information ? We’ll be exploring some of these questions in our “Assured Information Sharing” Research. Some of the auditing work that MIT’s DIG group has done also ties in .

Spammers are using Amazon EC2

July 1st, 2008

The Washington Posts Security Fix blog has a post, Amazon: Hey Spammers, Get Off My Cloud!, reporting on allegations that spammers are starting to use Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) servers. It only makes sense — you can sign up easily without committing to a contract of any length, the price is low, and the IP addresses are drawn from a wide range, making it hard to block them all. Besides, if Amazon’s EC2 IP addresses all get put in a spam blacklist, it will be bad for their many legitimate users. It may be tricky for Amazon to police this.