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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



Wherever you go, that’s where the edge is.

A few people pointed me to Chris Brogan’s report about Nick Saber, a guy who got locked out of Google Apps. It’s a useful example in favour of keeping data on the edge, rather than locked up in Google’s datacenters.

They’re right of course, but I am nothing if not alive to irony, and the fact that I’m currently locked out of my home server (which has wedged itself after an argument with a USB drive while I’m 50 miles away) stops me crowing too hard.

As I travel back to give it a boot, I was thinking a little about what our modern Internet architecture (and its future) means for where you place your data. I’ve been assuming up until now that the parlous nature of the edge (sucky latency, sucky upstream connectivity, sucky servers that crash without attrackive rack-mounted sysadmins with gleaming skintones to reboot them for you) is one of the reasons why people have tended to store data in the cloud. But as my pal John Kim pointed out, that can easily work the other way. Google can lock you out, but so can your crummy last mile connectivity. There’s not much point having five nines of uptime for your data, if you and others have far lower rates of access from your position on the bleeding, bloody, frustrating edge.

Really, what you want on a slow, unreliable network (which for all intents and purposes the Net will be for the foreseeable future, God bless it) is for data to migrate to where it’s being most used. That’s partly what we see as our shared data moves off into the cloud. You want it there because that’s half-way between you and your other accomplices: or you at home (checking your Gmail) and you at work (checking your Gmail).

But we should all be aware of the Wisest Adage of Network Storage ever: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway”. Especially if you’re in the stationwagon with the tapes. If I can lug my data around with me, and have it always connected, then my data will naturally migrate to me. The latency and throughput on the edge sucks, but only to other people. For me, it’s zero and ethernet speed respectively.

I say this, realising that most of my data has migrated to my (encrypted, backed up) laptop, not my home server. And that I idly walked around with a 250GB drive in my jacket pocket for a week or so before I even noticed it. And that most of us carry multi-gigabyte, alway-on, networked and server-capable smartphones with us most of the day. And that if *that* crashed, I wouldn’t be swearing at Google or my USB drive — I’d just reboot my pocket.

4 Responses to “Wherever you go, that’s where the edge is.”

  1. Lee Maguire Says:

    We’re doomed to keep inventing variations on SMTP and NNTP, aren’t we? Back in the pre-FRIACO days of the UK net we experienced that slow (and expensive!) connectivity. Email came in QWK packets, Usenet in SOUP – and everything was read in a mode we used to call “offline”.

    Interestingly the situation again forces an economic question; this time the dollar-value of privacy. For any particular file how much am I prepared to pay to keep it personal (since “public” just keeps getting cheaper).

    “Only wimps use tape backup: _real_ men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it.” — Linus Torvalds

  2. Ian Brown Says:

    You can of course get the benefits of both — keeping the authoritative versions of private data encrypted in the cloud, and syncing those with local copies of files whenever you have connectivity. What you then need are trusted applications and keys on a smartcard or some other trustworthy device (for now that probably means your own laptop) that you can use wherever you jack in.

    I talked a couple of years ago at a Dutch Data Protection Commission conference about theidea of Web apps that stored data encrypted and only decrypted at the client. That still needs a way to verify the apps aren’t quietly stealing your data.

  3. Terrell Says:

    Ian’s right – we need to get Tahoe working and running in our pockets. Distributed, encrypted filesystem with access from anywhere. It’s got backups built in – and recovery is always an option.

    Just don’t lose your keys to the kingdom.


  4. Marc Resibois Says:

    Seems like Azustek things just the contrary… not that I think I would ever use that kind of service but I thought it was funny both your post and that news came to me 5 minutes apart:



petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.