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The Future is in the iCloud
Francesco Schiavon on Tue, September 6th 5 comments
'The Cloud' has become this years buzz word that everyone wants to write about it. With Apple's iCloud coming soon, Francesco Shiavon explains what it is and why it'll revolutionize everything we do.

I've been using Mac OS X Lion Server for a few days now at home to manage multiple computers, accounts, calendars, contacts, file sharing, VPN, and Time Machine backups. Apart from that I've also been using a CalDAV and CardDAV server for some time on my main Mac. That on its own is not very interesting or dramatic, but it does provide an indication of the direction Apple is going with iCloud.

Up in the Air

I think that iCloud will change the way we use computers in a fairly profound way, and the most interesting thing is that I also believe we won't even notice.

I say this because iCloud, according to information that Apple has made public, will manage your data and files automagically behind the scenes. Well, if you have used a CardDAV and CalDAV server you've got a taste of what this means. Simple: you make an entry, say a calendar event, on one device, say your iPhone while you're at the doctor's office for a follow up appointment. If the device is connected to the CalDAV server, it automatically pushes the data to the server. The next time another device connects to the server, say your iPad, the server updates the calendar on that device, so your next doctor's appointment appears automatically, over the air, without any other syncing needed.

There really is no believable excuse for missing an appointment again

There really is no believable excuse for missing an appointment again!

iCloud will behave similar to that with the added feature that as long as the other devices get a connection to the internet, iCloud pushes the data down to the other devices at that point. The difference with the CalDAV server is that the calendar software is the one that makes the connection to get the latest calendar data, while iCloud pushes the changes without the calendar software making the request.


So why is this thing so groundbreaking? In fact, it's not, but it's a huge move forward to "cloud computing".

For the most part we think of computers as these devices that contain all our valuable data ranging from the calendar information to business files that are super sensitive. To access that data we need access to our computer, right?  Well, what would happen if your computer is gone? Some of us have gone through the terrible experience of having their computer stolen.  But that's not what I mean. what I mean is "not needing a computer anymore." Again, some of us are already familiar with this analogy. If you have a Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo! or for that matter, any other web based email, you're already doing "cloud computing". You can access that email anywhere with an internet connection. You don't have to be at your computer; you could be at any internet enabled terminal.

Now, take that idea to the extreme, where all your data is accessible from anywhere, even if you don't have your computer with you. As you see here, we don't need a personal computer anymore.

Syncing contacts across the cloud will probably become even easier than doing so across local networked machines

Syncing contacts across the cloud will probably become even easier than doing so across local networked machines.

Avoiding Conflicts

How does this relate to the Lion Server I mentioned at the very top of this article?  With Server you can set it up so your Home directory is stored on the server. This means that if you log in to any computer that has access to that server, all your stuff in your Home directory is accessible to any computer at any time. No more need to sync your files, bookmarks, settings, etc. because everything is in a central place accessible from any machine.

There's the same logic behind iCloud. The beauty of iCloud, similar to what the CalDAV server does, is that it manages any conflict behind the scenes. What's a conflict? I'll answer that with another question. What would happen if you were to create an event on one device that is not connected to the CalDAV server, and later make yet another event on a device that does have connectivity to the server? Well, the server figures it out and ensures that the data is kept consistent once the different devices connect to the server. I'll give you an example. Say you have that doctor's appointment in your calendar and you're in a remote location with no connection to the CalDAV server. At this time you need make a change in the doctor's appointment because you're not available that day, so you make the change on your iPhone (remember, it has no connection to the server). Once you get to your own local network, in the same calendar you go and add another event unrelated to the doctor's appointment. Now, when  your iPhone connects to your local network and the calendar connects to the CalDAV server, it sends the doctor's appointment to the server and retrieves the other non related appointment to your iPhone. When you open iCal on your Mac, it gets the updated doctor's appointment and the new unrelated appointment too.

iCal in the iCloud

Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe

So, iCloud would work in a similar way but not only for calendars or contacts, but for any application that the developer has built iCloud support. iCloud would mange any conflicts, keep the data secure, and with technologies like AutoSave and Versions in Lion, your work will be accessible without "your main computer". The inside workings of iCloud are not very public at this stage, but Apple has said that the data will be secure and only accessible to the application that creates it, plus a bunch of encryptions and keys that will be added to the process to make sure your data and files are safe.

Keeping documents secure is of prime importance if cloud computing is to succeed

Keeping documents secure is of prime importance if cloud computing is to succeed. 

This means that the concept we currently have of a "personal computer" is morphing faster than what most people realize.  In fact, an iPad is a great example.  You can access some of your data on it, while the data itself is not hosted or created on the device, like your email, or your calendar and contacts while connecting to a CalDAV/CardDAV server.

I'm very much looking forward to iCloud, specially once software developers start releasing versions of their software with support for iCloud. I'll also have to come up with some cleaver password and change it offen, because if someone gets a hold of my Apple ID, they not only get access to my iTunes store account, but to my private files once they're in iCloud.

Note: The term "cloud computing" and to an extent "iCloud" comes from engineers and teachers trying to represent the internet as a cloud whenever they made a diagram of devices connecting to the internet. This is because the network itself has no shape and we really don't need the details of how data travels over the internet from its source to its destination. Hence that complex connectivity of devices, aka the internet, is most often represented by a cloud. If these academics had used something like a "black box" in their diagrams instead, it would be called "black box computing" or maybe "iBlackBox!" 

Want to learn more? Check out Francesco Schiavon's Mac OS X 10.7 101 - Core Lion Tutorial here.

Comments (5)

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  • Wipavue
    As I am not one of those people who need (or want) to be connected (or synchronized) via multiple gadgets, I doubt I will be off into the iCloud any time soon. When I am away from my computer, I am quite happy to be so. As for backing up data, I'll continue to make hard copy backups, and use Time Machine. Having all of my data on some other server seems to me to have the potential for serious abuse as far as privacy is concerned. Nope, not for me.
    • 7 years ago
    • By: Wipavue
  • Peter Schwartz
    Well-written article from an author who I respect, as I've learned a lot from watching several of his videos. However, when it comes to this iCloud thing I don't agree with most of his premises. The notion of putting the internet between one's files and one's computer is a giant step backwards in the evolution of computing. Nothing is faster, more convenient, or reliable as storing data on a hard drive connected directly to your computer. Sure, having a copy of important data stored on an FTP server or other remote server (which iCloud is not all that far removed from) is a great idea. But it's folly to think that data stored on a 3rd party server should be anyone's first choice for data storage. Let's just look at data transfer speed of the internet vs. a directly-connected hard drive: At the present time, at least in the US, upload speeds are anywhere from 1/10 to 1/5 that of download speeds, making this system impractical for storing (i.e., uploading to the remote server -- iCloud) any kind of heavy-weight project files from apps like Logic, Photoshop, to name two. Compared to the speed of saving data to a hard drive, the concept of primary data storage in the cloud starts to seem just a bit silly. The concept of a personal computer "morphing" into something else is not, as Francesco seems to suggest, a self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone wants this to occur they can make it so by way of subscribing to the model which he described. Otherwise, the concept can be entirely ignored without -- as I foresee it -- any downside whatsoever.
    • 7 years ago
    • By: Peter Schwartz
  • FranchesYahoo
    This whole cloud computing business goes way above and beyond what FTP does. Yes, at the most basic level, there is a remote file server that requires the right credentials. But that's where the similarities between iCloud and FTP. In fact, bandwidth is not a problem at all since the files would be local on the device using them. The magic comes from the transparency that you don't have to do anything to move and update your files on other devices. As for security, only the apps that create the documents or that you give permission, can access the files on the cloud. So the security problem may not be someone else accessing your account, but rather loosing your iPhone and having no passcode on it. I believe that for certain kinds of data, like calendars, contacts and other non-sensitive documents, one can start using the service and see how it works. I'm sure I'll move more of my files to iCloud once I clearly understands how it works. Thanks for your comments. Keep them coming.
    • 7 years ago
    • By: FranchesYahoo
  • Begomui
    Hi Am I missing something or did u not really respond to Sky's question. Little bitty files, ok we see that. I already store scripts and other text material on an online server where others can access them. But say you take off with ur laptop to Some Other Place, You shoot some footage and add it in to your Final Cut Project. A week later you get home, fire up your desktop machine and there is your Final Cut Project updated... But wait a minute. You shot 1.2 gig of footage. Surely quicker and easier to ethernet or firewire or whatever it across from your laptop. Or is this not what iCloud is for? I'm fascinated but confused and like the others here don't see the point for most of what I do.
    • 7 years ago
    • By: Begomui
  • FranchesYahoo
    One of the problems with iCloud and "cloud computing" in general, is that it's so simplistic and at the same time complex, that many people are having a hard time understanding its value. That's one of the arguments I make in my article. It will change the fundamental way we use computers and we won't even notice. Let me see if I can give you an example: web based email. In "the old days" all of us had email programs that were hosted on one computer. In those days we didn't need to check our email every 5 minutes on the road. Webmail comes around, like Gmail, and then you're not locked to a single computer. In fact you don't even own the software. "It's in the cloud". That's kind of the idea with iCloud. You can create a document in one computer and instantly gets pushed to all your devices that share the same iCloud account. Have you ever wanted to have synched a document to your phone so you could work with it on the go, but it's "locked up" in your computer in your office or at home? None of that for data created with applications that have support for iCloud. Even if you don't have your mobile device with you, you could go and download it from another computer by going to the iCloud site; giving you access to your work almost wherever you are. Mixta, applications have to be written to push the data over to iCloud's servers. This means that Final Cut Pro X would not synch your media, at least on the current version. Take a look at Apple's page: Numbers, Pages, Keynote and iPhoto, they all synch across Macs and iOS devices. As more developers add iCloud support to their applications, their files will be synched to iCloud automagically. As you say, it's great for smaller files and things like photos, but larger media files you'd be safer backing them up using Time Machine.
    • 7 years ago
    • By: FranchesYahoo
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