Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/22/something_for_the_weekend_cloud_computing/

Official: Cloud computing invented by two technophobic old geezers

Blue sky thinking by mistake

By Alistair Dabbs

Posted in Vintage, 22nd February 2013 12:03 GMT

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Not a day goes by without a dozen press releases on the topic of cloud computing thrusting their way into my inbox (ooh, matron). I think I’ve made my opinions of the cloud con clear enough in previous columns but for the benefit of newer readers, let’s just say that I think it’s cock.

Well, that is, cloud computing itself isn’t cock. In fact, it has balls. It’s just that the concept is arse. Hang on, I seemed to have slipped into Team America mode. Let me start again.

An internet service that keeps your data easily accessible and up to date on and from all your devices is a boon. It’s just that the concept is oversold, in my view, especially given that no one has yet convinced me that it’s any more secure than extravagantly slipping a wad of Adams in your back pocket and locking them down with a pop-fastener.

If the following video demonstration was the reality of cloud computing, I’d be a damn sight keener on the whole shebang - and it would keep wayward pigs in check too:

I simply refuse to be persuaded that cloud computing is the product of geniuses who charge £500 an hour. Sure, there’s some nifty tech in even relatively straightforward cloud utilities, but many of us have been doing this kind of thing, albeit with manual syncing, for years. Come to think of it, lots of people have been doing it without realising.

One of my most loyal clients fits that last category. It’s a small company run by two men who are, well, let’s say of ‘a certain age’ and no longer need to pay fares for their commute into town. They can sell, they can make things happen and can adapt their business model at the doff of their trilbys, but they’re about as computer-literate as a house brick wrapped in brown paper and buried in the garden alongside their grandchildren’s goldfish. They know even less about computers than an advisor to a governmental IT project. And that’s swearing.

The first time I walked on-site two years ago, it was like stepping back in time. Situated in on the top floor of a Victorian warehouse with 5ft thick walls, the open-plan office smells like an old library. Every item of furniture is brown. Apart from the noise of police cars wailing up and down the Hackney Road, the generally calm atmosphere is punctuated only by the clacking of a typewriter.

Oh yes, the typewriter is essential for sales booking forms, they tell me. “How else can you make carbon copies?” they ask rhetorically. Who could argue with that logic?

As with many oldy, moldy offices, stacks of ancient correspondence and faded news clippings rise here and there, forming what looks like a papier-maché scale model of downtown Manhattan. Given that I can’t throw anything away, I can hardly call these guys hoarders, but they have maintained a full set of cardboard boxes for every item of office equipment they have ever bought, certainly dating back to the last century, and I suspect even the one before that.

The stuff I find among this hoard provides no end of entertainment at lunchtimes. It’s like being let loose in the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. On my last trip, I discovered this pair of tasteful candleholders:

Tasteful candleholders

Frankly, I can’t wait for a power cut.

Hey, you, get off of my cloud

My predecessor must have had his work cut out dragging these guys kicking and screaming into... well, not so much the 21st Century as perhaps into the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. I can tell it must have been difficult because he ended up buying Apple Mac Minis for all the staff. I imagine the decision-making process went along the lines of: “If I have to have a computer, make it so small, insignificant and barely usable that, with a bit of luck, it’ll get lost behind last month’s paperwork and a broken teasmaid.”

One of the office juniors, barely in his late 50s, tried very hard to make a feature of his computer by clearing as much junk away from his desk as possible. Just compare the result with what’s probably sitting on your work desk right now:

Step into my office...

Even the super hi-tech LCD display is barely larger than the one on his mobile phone. Spotting computers in this place is like playing Spot The Ball in the Daily Mirror when Robert Maxwell and Roy Greenslade were in charge.

And yet, these guys keep almost no data on their hard disks. Instead, it’s all sitting online as messages and attachments in a complex folder structure within a free webmail account. The security stinks, of course, but nothing to upset the Information Commissioner, mind... And their persistence with a crappy (but cheap!) 4Mbps DSL service all but guarantees unreliability, but all the files they need are at their fingertips, whether at home, at work or on the road.

Who told them to do this? No one, apparently. My predecessor set them up with a free email account and they worked out the rest themselves. Basically, I’m sitting in what looks like the set of Fagin’s attic in David Lean’s Oliver Twist with two ancient technophobes who are prone to correcting word processing typos by applying Tipp-Ex to the screen... and yet who twigged basic cloud computing all by themselves.

So please enlighten me, apart from the clever programming stuff, what’s so ground-breaking and paradigm-shifting about the application of a shared data concept that a pair of old geezers have been using by default - by mistake, even - for yonks? I leave you with this, a photo of the office at lunchtime, portraying denial of service attack, old-school stylee:

Oliver Twist

Source: ITV Studios Home Entertainment

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He has now become so accustomed to working night shifts that he is considering joining Zabulon’s Dark Others. This would be cool if it wasn’t for the fact that he has also started going sparkly in daylight.