“Cloud computing” risks and rewards

Martin Schedlbauer says the rewards have outweighed the risks in the year since switching to cloud computing. Photo by Lauren McFalls.

Tired of trying to keep all his files backed up and synchronized between his personal, work and travel computers, Martin Schedlbauer, an assistant clinical professor in the College of Computer and Information Science, switched to “cloud computing” — using web-based programs, applications and file storage. One year later, he offers his assessment.

What impact has moving to the cloud had on your work?

It’s just gotten a lot easier. I thought the web had matured enough where online applications are as safe as, if not better than, a desktop. I ultimately stumbled onto (the provider) Zoho, which allows me to do almost everything online — email, note taking, video calls, scheduling. I don’t have to install applications locally. When I go home, I don’t have to think, “Did I bring that file on a USB stick?” I use a file synchronization program that automatically updates local files. If I go to someone’s house, I can check my email or calendar. If I have a thought, I can enter it in my cell phone. As long as I have a browser, I can get to it.

Are there any drawbacks?

All of this works when Internet is readily available. It is the biggest drawback and the biggest fear that your documents are now with somebody else. So it was important to me that any program I used allowed a local backup, for sensitive documents. It’s a risk-reward kind of thing. The benefit is I can travel lightly. But there is a risk: What if this all goes away? There’s also the danger of someone breaking in and stealing your files, so I rotate passwords frequently. I think anytime you log onto the Internet, you are vulnerable. But from the other perspective, if I travel with a laptop, someone could steal it.

Where does “cloud computing” currently stand in a society trending more digital?

It’s catching on slowly. Everything relies on the availability and reliability of a network connection. People are getting used to having 24/7 access to the web. Once people accept that this has the same level of reliability as other utilities, such as electricity, they are more likely to adopt those cloud services. But it might not make sense for everyone. Companies might be hesitant to store sensitive information online. For students, it can work really well. In the future, I see students really looking at the laptop as an information access device rather than as a computer with a hard drive.