Could “Cloud” Become a Dirty Word for Consumers?

Let me first get this out of the way: I know the term “cloud” is overused, and systems like Amazon Web Services are vastly different than so-called “consumer-cloud” services like Gmail and Amazon’s Cloud Drive.

But with all the bad news about recent outages from Amazon, the high-profile consumer data breaches like that from the Sony’s Playstation Network and continuing disruptions to services like  Tumblr, it’s time to ask: Could consumers start to lose confidence in the cloud?

While there’s no real hard data today about whether consumers are losing confidence in the cloud — other than possibly looking at trending of search terms about major outages — I have to wonder if the continuing string of outages, breaches and overall high-profile downtime is starting to tarnish the larger cloud brand. After all, chances are, at some point most consumers have been affected, either by downtime to a favorite service or something more serious like a data loss or (God forbid) their personal data compromised; at some point, those users might start to distrust this fuzzy concept they think of as cloud.

Part of the problem here is one of education. It’s difficult in the consumer world, where many have a nodding acquaintance with technology but no real hard understanding, to explain why the evolution of web architecture is better off with such things as Amazon Web Services. Most don’t have time to really grasp these finer points, nor would the technology world expect them to.

And that’s why the cloud could ultimately experience a branding issue.

Right now, the cloud brand is still probably strong and still, despite the spate of bad news, holds a certain cachet. At the same time, however, the noise around high-profile cloud outages, breaches and failure has been getting steadily louder, reason enough for the industry to collectively take notice and, perhaps, collectively take action before the word “cloud” becomes a dirty one.

So what should it do? First off, I think many of the services that experience problems — the recent Gmail and Netflix outages come to mind — would benefit from faster and more transparent communication of the problem. Often, hours or days go by without any real communication of what is going on, leaving many wondering what exactly the extent of the problem will be. If there’s anything to be learned from politics, it’s to get ahead of the problem by communicating early and often.

But perhaps more important, the industry could collectively communicate how they’ll protect consumers from these types of problems in the future, either through concrete steps they lay out, or issuing a series of best practices that consumer cloud services could follow.

What would this collective look like? Hard to say. Possibly working within existing groups such as the Open Cloud Consortium, who offers reference architectures, but could also incorporate best practices for web-services companies around outward-facing communication. The same companies could also create a consumer-facing group that could explain the benefits of cloud computing vis-a-vis other technologies as well as provide consumer “best practices” (such as back-up).

Clearly, it’s not an easy issue to tackle, but it is one that needs attention. With new services being launched almost daily, it’s time for the industry to act before “cloud” becomes a dirty word in the mind of the consumer.

For more analysis on how recent outages could impact consumer behavior, see my weekly update at GigaOM Pro (sub required).

Image courtesy of flickr user edvvc