Monday, June 30, 2014

Perils of Using Cloud Services

So far, I've been a fan of cloud services.  I say, "so far," because it's a great idea on the surface.  For free, or a small fee, web businesses provide storage, blogging, graphs, and many specialized services.  It seems like the perfect solution to problems that we little folk have.  Some of us want to investigate power (me), others want to share pictures, still others want long winded political diatribes, and there are sites out there that cater to us.

But (remember, there's always a 'but'), the darn providers want to constantly change what they provide and charge ever increasing amounts of money for the services.  I've talked about my disappointment with Xively (Cosm, Pachube) over the years as they got bought out by various companies and abandoned the ideals and price point they started with.  Some of the services start off with a bang and dwindle to a whimper decreasing services down to an almost unusable level.  Others unexpectedly change things and don't let you know in advance, or even after the fact ... you have to find out because things quit working (usually over the weekend), and it takes time and patience to ferret out what the heck they did.

In the last couple of weeks I've encountered this annoying activity in regards to my charts that are displayed on this site.  One day (a Monday naturally), all my charts based on Xively storage stopped working.  It took me a while to figure out what happened and fix it.  It seems that Xively stopped responding to the old Pachube URLs and didn't give any warning at all.  I checked their blog, site, twitter account and my spam folder, nothing.  So, I had to visit each use of the charts and change the word 'pachube' to 'xively' to make it work.  Not a bad thing, and it wouldn't have mattered if they dropped me a note or put something somewhere that this was going to happen.  But, it was really annoying to have it sneak up like that.

Then, the charts stopped working again.  Nope, it wasn't Xively messing around, this time it was dropbox.  They tightened up the security and forced their old http links into https.  This is normally considered a good thing, but when you have a number of embedded charts that all look at http, it is a pain to change all of them.  Especially when they didn't say a word about it.  Nope, it didn't come in the email, no mention anywhere I could find.

After chasing down the various references, I got them fixed and working again (I think).

This has happened to me before; actually several times, google dropped support for their .png charts, I had to scramble to find another way.  A cloud storage service disappeared, that's how I decided to move to dropbox.  One of the quicken services became Mint and the transition sucked for me; I just dropped that idea altogether.  Etc.

I still think Cloud Services are a good idea, but the specific implementations seem to be ridden with various problems we have to adapt to.  The biggest being some corporate know-it-all that decides to change things without communicating it.  True, it is their service and they can do what they want.  I have the choice of staying with them or leaving for something else that fits my needs or doesn't tick me off as much.

However, I also have the choice of grabbing one of the great new little computers, hanging a big ol' drive on it that I can pick up for a song these days, and rolling my own in-home cloud services.  I mean, how hard can it be to record the data I send up the wire locally?  A nice free database manager (there are dozens), a little front end code that listens to http, and away I go.  Sure, it'll expose a machine to the internet if I want to make it public (I do) and I'd have to actually invest in a real router to isolate the rest of the house, but I wouldn't be subject to the changing whims of some corporate MBA that will only hold the job for a few months before leaving for greener pastures.

I haven't decided to abandon the cloud yet, but it's getting more and more compelling all the time.

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