I had a fascinating conversation a few weeks ago with Frank Gillett of Forrester Research, who has taken a counter-culture approach to analyzing the adoption of cloud computing. He is watching the growth of what he calls the “Personal Cloud”: Our adoption as individual consumers of cloud computing is transforming both clouds and our personal lives. Very different, of course, to the frequently discussed Enterprise adoption of IaaS, but strangely relevant too – since I am convinced that one of the barriers to adoption of cloud based services by the enterprise is the lack of familiarity of the IT personnel with what various cloud offerings can do to transform the workplace, and interesting also because many of the personal cloud service providers run their service on AWS. Indeed VMware positions AWS as a “consumer cloud” vendor, presumably also to imply that AWS is not fit for enterprise use. (When I mentioned this to Werner Vogels he was quite happy with it, pointing out that the last time he’d checked, every one of us was a consumer!)
The basic argument behind the adoption of personal cloud computing is pretty simple: we increasingly use web based services to avoid personal IT challenges. Who hasn’t been frustrated trying to help their parents debug a sick PC over the phone? I solved that problem long ago using GoToAssist Express which gives me full control and instrumentation of the frequently virus infested PCs of my distant family members. One of the coolest things about GoToAssist is that I can push an app to a remote machine to install it, then reboot and then simply continue my “fixing” once it comes back up – the session survives reboot.
Then there’s the rising nightmare of personal storage and backup. I long ago gave up on storing paper records – anything that I want to keep is immediately scanned and saved digitally. Then there are photos (a few hundred gigs) and music (about the same), and increasingly, movies. With the incessant improvements in display resolution, and the rapid improvements in movie editing software and cameras, I decided to only shoot in HD. Finally, there’s our digital movie library, which has hundreds of movies and TV episodes stashed away. In all, a few terabytes, and growing alarmingly fast. That immediately puts me into the horrible position of having to be a storage administrator. I’d say I’m reasonably competent at technical stuff, but I bet most folk would find it tough to wrap their heads around RAID and managing volumes on external storage systems. The device world has helped a lot – I now use a drobo which has eliminated my need to be a storage manager, and makes my local world reliable and simple. With GigE everywhere, I can then feed media to the many devices in the house, but I still have to make sure that in the event of a total loss – say of my house – our digital assets are protected. Enter S3, and the various cool products that layer reliable backup on top of its WEBDAV-accessible object store. Every machine that produces content in my house automatically syncs key state to S3, every minute or less. Only changed blocks are moved, so even a massive file, slightly edited, results in a trivial backup time. I started out hacking my own tools on S3, but subsequently moved to JungleDisk which has silently and reliably protected my world for a trivial fee, for years now (proven when an old drive failed recently and for the first time I had to do a massive read from S3). I’ve recently found myself using Dropbox as a way to get my stuff between machines, or on the web. I only wish there was an encrypted, enterprise version of it that I could persuade Citrix to use. Then there’s yousendit which I’ve found increasingly used even at work, simply because emailing 40MB of powerpoint is not a rational thing for anyone to do, but we have to do it anyway. Sure, I could log onto the corporate network and then find a sharepoint site to drop my doc on, but it is simply a pain to do.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably saying “OK, no brainer, what else?”. Well, as a frequent traveller with a need for a decent voice system that is in effect a full PBX, I’ve recently started playing with the Asterisk PBX in Amazon EC2. I am fortunate to have a fiber into my house (35Mb/s down, 15Mb/s up) and I can honestly say that once I got my head around Asterisk configuration, the rest turned out to be dead-easy. So I suspect I’ll move that into production pretty soon…
Finally, personal email. I happen to really like email privacy, and the risk of exposure of personal information by my email provider or even a recipient of email has always bothered me. Here’s an example: communication with your lawyer, whose laptop is later stolen, exposes all of your communication. The lack of auth and privacy in email is the cause of all the spam in the first place. So I have two tips for you on how to (a) rid yourself of all spam, forever and (b) in so doing, ensure absolute privacy of your email. This is what I do for my own domain: First create a google apps account for your domain, and point the DNS entries for your domain’s email services to google. Set up the gmail preferences to permit POP or IMAP, and then configure your email client to retrieve email from gmail. Google is fabulous at pulling spam out (and the more accounts they run, the better they are at finding the spam) but of course they will not respect your privacy. So, to guarantee end to end privacy for my personal email, I now use Secret123 which offers me a simple outlook plugin and a no-brainer “send secret” button in outlook. (Full disclosure: I liked this so much I’ve become an advisor to the company). They run a HSA that stores every user’s public key. If I send an encrypted email to someone that is not an S123 user, all they have to do is click on a URL, register, and heigh ho, the email is decrypted. No more PGP signing parties for me! So even as gmail strips out the spam, Google can’t see what’s in my email. I get a spam free, privacy guaranteed inbox. And it’s free, forever. Neat.
I’m sure you have a ton of other great ideas (beyond iPhone/Android apps) that are helping to transform your personal and work life, and I’d love to hear your recommendations.