In one of our previous posts we wondered if Apple’s iCloud was such a great solution for consumers. Despite our reservations we do regard the concept of the personal cloud itself as perfectly fitting in today’s world of social networking and mobility: always being able to access and share your information wherever you are. Clearly the benefits and downsides of the personal cloud differ greatly from the business cloud where benefits are all about lowering cost and creating flexibility and scalability.
For consumers these benefits do not exist since they do not have a large complex IT infrastructure. For consumers and individuals the financial benefits of third party personal clouds are zero or negative. In fact, if it is just storage you want, a 2TB USB harddisk costs less than 70 Euro including VAT. A quick look at some of the online storage providers shows the relatively high cost per Terabyte of storage. KPN charges 95,40 a year (excl. VAT) for 100G, Apple’s iCloud sets you back 80 Euro for 55 Gb per year and a service from ElephantDrive starts at $99,95 a year. In terms of cost, buying your own is the sensible thing to do; especially if you have a lot of videos and photos to store or share.
But there is a lot more to the personal cloud than just the cost aspect (see figure above). Ever since information technology went mobile, people want to access information anytime, anyplace, anyhow. This is an important driver for centralized online storage facilities. On top of that people own an increasing array of personal information devices. Having your books and music always at your disposal, or being able to check your agenda on any device is an important requirement for today’s netizen. Data synchronization is the next logical step and will make your digital life a lot easier. If you do own a digital collection of movies, music, and books that you cherish, creating a back-up is another sensible thing to do. Finally, this is the era of social networking and therefore the ability to share information has become an important requirement.
In the world of the connected consumer a personal cloud seems like a no brainer. But just like the business cloud the personal cloud comes in many flavors. There is a choice between vendors at the top of the food chain where companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are in heavy competition to get a handle on consumer data as a means to strengthen their position in the connected consumer ecosystem. Their cloud offerings help to reinforce customer relationships and are geared at driving additional revenue. Next in the food chain is the growing number of online storage providers such as Dropbox, Sugarsync and ElephantDrive. They are trying to win consumers over by upping the ante in terms of offering increased functionality and service by including back-up, synchronization and ease of use. Their business model is to charge for storing and accessing online data.
At the bottom end there is a growing number NAS (networked attached storage) vendors that are offering a private version of the personal cloud. While the public cloud providers will hail the convenience of their cloud service, the private cloud providers will stress the importance of owning your own data. Companies such as Western Digital, Iomega, QNAP and Synology are releasing more user friendly and intelligent NAS solutions for the home: their version of a private personal cloud. They have focused on creating a plug and play experience by adding an easy to use yet sophisticated software layer on top to deliver important features such as file sharing, secure remote access, data synchronization and backup. They have also developed a mobile app to allow easy remote access to their private cloud.
Both public and private personal cloud solutions have their pros and cons. The public cloud offers great convenience and speed but misses out on answering key questions such as: can you change quickly and easily from cloud provider, how can you make sure that the data is moved and not copied to the other provider, who owns the data, who can do what with your data, who is responsible for your data, is there any quality of service or service level agreement in place? Public personal cloud providers focus their small print on limiting their responsibility and user service levels. In contrast, the private cloud is a relatively inexpensive solution where you are fully in charge of your own data. But it has other serious drawbacks: it is still a far cry away from the convenience a public cloud offers and the upload speed of your home connection can seriously hamper remote access performance.
While there is no doubt that the personal cloud will become a standard issue for the Internet user the choice for a private or a public cloud will greatly depend on the users primary concern and the type of information to be stored or shared.
At the METISfiles we think that personal cloud providers should address the concept of information sensitivity and sharing preferences. Today’s personal cloud offerings are typically products and services aimed at specific usertypes (control freaks vs social crowds) but lack an intelligent information approach. We think personal cloud offerings could benefit from an integrated more information centric approach.
Current cloud offerings are still immature but also rapidly developing. At the METISfiles we expect that strong competition in the connected consumer ecosystem will speed up the development of superior consumer cloud solutions that will address important issues like security, service levels, service notifications, data management and ease of use. While the public cloud may have the upper hand today, the increasing number of reported hacks and security breaches and data leakages will generate ample opportunity for personal private and hybrid (public + private) cloud offerings. Let us know your thoughts on personal cloud developments and mail us at theMETISfiles.