If the recent rash of netbooks is any indication, cloud computing may actually be gaining traction.
The aspect of cloud computing that’s the most attractive for me is being able to access all your stuff no matter where you are–provided you have a computer with a decent Internet connection and a fairly standard browser. However, there are two very bothersome aspects of cloud computing. First, if you cannot connect to the provider of your cloud service (e.g., your ISP is flaky, the service’s servers are ill, the site has been banned in the country you are in, etc.), you are screwed. Second, no matter what guarantees the provider gives you, your stuff is in someone else’s hands–meaning the provider can legally sniff your stuff for more effective marketing (Google) or it may be illegally hacked into.
However, there is a fairly easy approach to ameliorating both these problems, especially now that capable server hardware has become so profoundly cheap. The idea is simple: instead of having Google, Google Apps, Zoho or whomever host your Cloud apps, host them in your own home on a dedicated computer. As long as you don’t plan to open your Home Cloud to tons of users, the performance demands on the hardware will be pretty small.
When you host your Cloud apps from home, if your ISP goes nuts you will still be able to access your stuff from within your home LAN. While this won’t help you if you need to access your stuff from Starbucks, it is better than not being able to access it from anywhere. Also, when you host your Cloud apps from home, your data stays at home. It still may be open to hacking, but it won’t be available for other purposes. In addition, a would-be hacker would have to specifically target your server, whereas in a hosted situation one breach of the server may make all users’ data available to the hacker.
One downside to the Home Cloud concept is that it places the burden of backing up data on the home user. But this can be greatly simplified by appropriate Home Cloud software.
A bigger problem with the Home Cloud is what all the cool people are now calling “monetization”. In other words, how do you make money off it? End users are becoming increasingly accustomed to getting services for free. Google makes money feeding you ads. Zoho makes money by selling premium services mostly to businesses. Are users willing to pay for Home Cloud software? One possible way forward is to adopt the media server model: dedicated server hardware that’s preloaded with everything needed to make it go and that requires a minimum of user configuration. We may be living in a time where it may actually be easier to sell hardware that encapsulates a task than software.
I’m aware of only a few projects that have a Home Cloud spirit. eyeOS and Lucid Desktop are OSS home-hostable apps that give the user a virtual Web-based desktop. Another project to keep an eye on is Tiny Tiny RSS–essentially a home hostable replacement for Google Reader. All three of these projects are open source software, and it will be interesting to see where all three of these projects go.