Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining

There is a theory that the names we assign to concepts become more appropriate as each concept becomes modelled closer to the properties implicit in its name. This is a slightly more up-market version of the observation that pet owners grow to resemble their pets, and nowhere is the phenomenon more apparent than in Cloud Computing.

Most of us now have reasonably coherent concepts as to what happens within our computers, and these become a bit vaguer when it comes to networks. By the time that we are out onto the Internet, even prominent self-appointed authorities start burbling in public about ‘tubes’ and the like as we verge on the incoherent. When it comes to the Cloud, we just go all vaporous, white, and woolly: indeed rather cloudy.

Consult the writings of real experts and you may remain as vague and puzzled as you were beforehand.

A glance at Wikipedia’s article on IBM Cloud Computing, for example, is like struggling through pages of modern French philosophy: I emerge at the other end wondering how anyone can do that with language.

An example sentence reads “In 2011, IBM SmartCloud integrated Hadoop-based InfoSphere BigInsights for big data, Green Hat for software testing and Nirvanix for cloud storage.” For which we should be grateful that only those few were named, lest we had to pinch a thigh to prevent ourselves from laughing out loud.

I think that I will remember 2011 for more trivial but meaningful events, and have the photos to prove it. Perhaps we should use that as a test: let these vendors of Clouds show us the photos to prove that they really exist.

Even when you think that you are getting on top of this parade of perverted semantics, someone comes along and unjiggers the whole thing again. I can conceptualise public and private clouds in comfort, but juxtapose the word ‘virtual’ with ‘cloud’ and I am danger of recursion. Add another level by considering virtualisation on a non-Cloud server that is integrating local services with a virtual private cloud, and it is time for a long walk outside.

It may be this that has kept Apple from attempting to get what we will all know as Yosemite Server – though officially dubbed OS X Server 4.1 – to do anything meaningful with iCloud. If Apple’s product managers could not understand what the iCloud team were saying, then it did not go into the development schedule.

Instead, as a Server admin, you can permit or forbid iCloud access in profiles. At least Apple has now split iCloud access and VPN to use different ports, at last allowing you to use VPN and iCloud at the same time. But that is about it; Apple has not yet attempted the sort of server-Cloud integration that Microsoft and others are trying.

Time will come when Apple needs to square up to the conflict between a simple perhaps truly consumer Server, and its iCloud service. For iCloud is another revenue stream that is set to bolster Apple’s income just as the iTunes and App Stores are doing, by selling us content. Only this time the content is our own, and we will soon be renting even more virtual private space in a public cloud so that we can access our documents and data wherever we go.

When we have a Home network, neatly managed by Yosemite Server, it makes sense to use that server as a local proxy for those that provide the Cloud. Just as my iPhone latches onto my home WiFi when it can, should it not also be able to synchronise with iCloud-held data within that same local network?

It remains bizarre that, with my iPhone sat next to my iMac, if I add an appointment to my Calendar that has to be sent out to the remote iCloud servers for the iPhone to catch up, again with that remote service. That is a task not dissimilar to that of a local Software Update server, a long-standing feature of OS X Server. That improves the efficiency of our Internet use, enabling us to store more in iCloud without having to worry about caps on data transfers.

And the more that we store in iCloud, the more tangible to Apple will be its silver lining.

Updated from the original, which was first published in MacUser volume 28 issue 20, 2012.