“The Cloud” is faster than any external hard drive

I have a lot of data. I mean a LOT of data. Between client files, photos, my own music and video projects, and just ~30 years of accumulated digital stuff we’re talking many, many terabytes. I don’t think we can quite get into thinking in terms of petabytes, but it’s on the horizon.

Keeping backups of all of that data is tedious. Companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft — not to mention OS-independent third-party vendors like Dropbox — are encouraging us to keep all of our data in “the cloud.” While there are various business advantages for them in us doing that — monthly subscription revenue, of course, plus the ability to (to some extent, at least) sic their algorithms on our masses of data for training their AI models or shoving targeted advertising in our faces — there also are advantages for us.

The main advantage that these companies tout is our ability to access our data from any of our devices, anywhere in the world. But if you’ve spent any time trying to read or write data on an external HDD attached to your computer, you’ve likely noticed another difference. Hard disks are SLOW. SSDs are better, but still not that fast. Consumer-grade drives, even the best ones, definitely are not as fast as the industrial-grade, super-optimized drives filling these companies’ cloud data centers.

But here’s the really key point: as people’s Internet bandwidth improves, we’re getting to a point where there is no bottleneck in the cloud drive interface comparable to the severe limitations of transfer speed on external hard disks. With gigabit fiber in my home, it is way faster for me to access data on my iCloud Drive than on the WD Elements disk I have sitting right on my desk. And, given the failure rate of these kinds of disks — and the huge risk of corruption if you just, you know, unplug it at the wrong moment — a local external hard disk is becoming increasingly unviable as a method of archiving one’s data.

I currently have four sluggish 5 TB HDDs in my desk drawer, another one hooked up regularly as my TimeMachine drive, plus a 2 TB SSD that exists solely for situations when I’ve filled up my MacBook Pro’s internal 512 GB disk and I need to clear up some space but I can’t wait half an hour for files to copy onto one of those HDDs. I really can’t stand it. For some reason I still do this, because I don’t entirely trust cloud storage. But… why? If I step back and think about it, what about “The Cloud” could possibly be worse than the way I’m currently doing things?

I’m not really sure why this isn’t being used as a selling point for cloud drive services… maybe it’s just too technical and esoteric for the average user who hasn’t accumulated a lifetime’s worth of digital detritus.

Side note: Four years ago I had this to say. Maybe that’s why I’m still doing things my way.

“All in” is right

Today, according to banner ads and discussions from the likes of Neven Mrgan and Gizmodo, Microsoft is “all in.” All in “the Cloud,” that is, though the poker metaphor of betting the company on an all-or-nothing strategy seems apt.

Reading some of Steve Ballmer’s vacuous corporate speak surrounding this campaign (including the following PowerPoint-ready bullet points), I am not overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the endeavor:

– The cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities
– The cloud learns and helps you learn, decide and take action
– The cloud enhances your social and professional interactions
– The cloud wants smarter devices
– The cloud drives server advances that drive the cloud

My perspective on this kind of “communication” (such as it is) has evolved over time. When I was 25, it intimidated me, because I didn’t understand it. When I was 30, it annoyed me, because I realized there was nothing to understand, and it was just wasting my time. Now, at 35, it worries me, because I realize that this is how the people who are running things — important things like Microsoft, for crying out loud — actually think. They write nonsense like this and think it’s meaningful.

I wouldn’t bet on that.

Update: In Ballmer’s defense, the full presentation provided a lot more details than this bullet list, but it’s still a lot of not really very much.