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Chromebook – The Balance of Risk and Cost

Chromebook – The Balance of Risk and Cost

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Yesterday’s post generated a few comments that focused on the cost and ease of use of the Chromebook.  Now it’s time to put a data management spin onto it.

Today we keep our primary data either directly on our PC/laptop or on a file server.  File server can mean many things; a home NAS server, a corporate Enterprise server or somewhere in between.  There are also options to share data in the Cloud via products such as Dropbox.  In all of these options the user or company maintains control of the primary copy of data.  Backups (if taken) can also be local or perhaps into a cloud offering.  Google are providing something different.  They manage both the primary and backup copies of data and products such as the Chromebook make it difficult (almost impossible) for the user to take additional backups of their own data.  This is a control thing that Google want to maintain.

Unfortunately there’s a price to be paid for giving away so much control.  Imagine a company with 1000 employees.  If one of them loses a laptop, the exposure and possible loss is on that laptop.  The exposure is only valid if the laptop was not encrypted and would pertain to any locally cached files.  Admittedly that exposure could be significant, but with encryption, easily mitigated.  Loss represents any data not already replicated or backed up elsewhere.  With tools such as Dropbox, this can be minimal, or almost nothing.

Now look at the Chromebook model.  All the data is stored and managed by Google.  If there is an issue in a Google datacentre, which could range from data being inaccessible, to data loss, to inability to recover, then all 1000 users are potentially affected.  Imagine primary storage is damaged and lost – Google have the backup copy too – you better hope the restore will work.  In addition, why would Google prioritise you over other customer restores?  All of a sudden your risk becomes the loss of your entire business if you can’t get things back.  Will Google pay if this happens?  I doubt it.

Running your own infrastructure gives you a degree of control over your own destiny.  Your own solution may not be perfect but you can control how data is stored and protected, including the frequency and type of backup.  Cloud solutions by their nature are deployed for the lowest cost possible otherwise they don’t become economic.  By reducing cost and moving to the cloud you are also increasing risk.  I am not saying this is bad, but merely that you should understand the consequences of moving to a less expensive service.  If you are comfortable with the risk, then Google (or other cloud services) may be the right thing for you.

Perhaps as cloud offerings mature, we will see a range of service levels offered – from free to premium, where the quality of the infrastructure and degree of resiliency is matched to the cost.  The ability to segregate the valued data from the MP3 files yet retain the same portal interface may be the best way for cloud offerings to go mainstream.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • Dunstan Vavasour

    We can use the same argument for lots of things: we rely on electricity companies to keep our supply going, and not to suddenly put a 400,000 volt spike through our supply resulting in death. We rely on the water company to continuously supply clean and safe drinking water.

    These shared supplies of electricity and water sometimes go wrong. But they’re still many times safer and more reliable (and cheaper) than everybody running their own. The reasons for this were described by Adam Smith more than 200 years ago.

    I think we’ll see cloud providers getting things wrong (as with Amazon and the EBS debacle a few weeks ago) but, like power cuts, the mistakes will be far less frequent than the average corporate datacentre. IMHO.

    • http://www.brookend.com Chris Evans


      Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying these services or offerings are bad. I’m saying people should understand the risks. You make a good point about delivery of electricity & water, but those things really only apply to domestic use. Where (for instance) a company has a power cut in their main office, it’s easy to divert phones and work from home. My point is that data is your intellectual property, your corporate asset. Lose it and you’re out of business. Lose the water supply and you move and work elsewhere.

      It will be interesting to see how this discussion appears when we look back at it in say 10 years time.


  • Catherine Campbell

    “These shared supplies of electricity and water sometimes go wrong. But they’re still many times safer and more reliable (and cheaper) than everybody running their own.”

    Agreed. In time. However, there is a fundamental difference – interruptions in supply of both electricity and water still happen, many many decades after these services became “commodity” – not good, but, for the most part, tolerable – where it is not tolerable, you go for multi-sourced supply, and in any case there are no lasting effects to that interruption (once it’s back, it’s back). Handing control of your data and it’s backup to a service provider precludes the ‘multi-sourcing’ option, and whilst temporary loss of access to the data may not be the end of the world, there is a distinct possibility of total loss of data, which might be.

    As Chris says – this is a discussion which will be interesting to look back on in [insert appropriate time period].

  • http://www.dailyio.com Nathan Dyson

    Your also assuming that every single company (Large or Small) has an IT person to manage their ‘inhouse’ infrastructure, and perform their backups for them, and on top of that, do this 100% correctly. How many times have you heard of a request for a file from backup fail in a small to medium size business? I’m betting more than we are willing to admit. IMO I think I would trust Google’s infrastructure and replication algorithm(s) and many hundreds of IT professionals with my business data, than I would with a single IT person that may or may not be available when I need them 🙂

    That being said, having your own backup copy of important documents and information always provides you with a warm and fuzzy feeling…

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