Chickens, Cows, Money and the Cloud

Here’s an interesting analogy on cloud computing for you! In the Christian Science Monitor’s Reformed Broker blog, the writer reports on the recent RSA Conference on computer security held earlier this month in San Francisco, and he quotes an observation from an attendee that appeared originally in The Economist.

At the meeting, Art Coviello, president of EMC’s security division, likened the cloud to the virtualization of money. Once upon a time, people carried chickens under their arms and led cows around to market in order to barter for the goods they needed – maybe a nice bed (stuffed with some luxurious fresh straw). Then, along came money, first coins, and then paper. And people could carry their wealth more easily – maybe even higher someone to tote that bed home for them.

I can see how that relates to the cloud. First you had to buy expensive applications to install in your own in-house servers – investing enormous sums to house those servers and build networks for sharing data (kind of like those ancient folks who built barns and chicken coops to house their wealth).

Now, along comes the cloud. And suddenly you don’t need to buy an app, run a building full of servers and keep an army of IT people on staff to keep your business running. Indeed, if you wanted to, you could turn the barn into a condo, or at least move the servers you want to hold onto into a smaller room (with less cooling required).

Another good thing about virtual money: the invention of financial instruments like securities, mutual funds and the like. They are ways of sharing wealth. When you’re not using them, or owning them, someone else is. How is this like cloud computing? Well, the infrastructure is there, and what you don’t use to store data, you don’t pay for. Someone else is using what you don’t.

One thing I thought of after reading this insightful analogy, though, was that security, or the need for it, is another thing the story of money and cloud computing have in common. When we got past spending our chickens and cows to buy what we want, or to store up our wealth, we invented security guards and banks and lockboxes and alarms to protect our coin and paper.

With the cloud, we’re still developing reliable hack-proof security systems to prevent data theft or spying, such as the recent invasion of Google, allegedly by the Chinese government to spy on dissidents. We’re working on agreeing on industry standards for security, but in the meantime, there are cloud-based monitoring alarms to make you feel a bit safer about vitalizing your computing needs.