So many of our applications are “moving to the cloud” or at the very least relying on information or authentication from the web. But what happens when you don’t have constant internet access or your connection is limited in some way. These are all things I would start to discover when I made the decision to go travelling beyond a simple holiday with my girlfriend.
It all started two weeks before leaving when our internet connection was cut off prematurely and we relied on our UK 3G/4G data plans as the sole internet provider with an old cracked iPhone 4 essentially acting as the house modem. The first thing that started to fall apart was Dropbox, usually a great tool for keeping your files synced across all your devices with a backup in the cloud.
As a heavy user of Dropbox I’m regularly working on several projects which are all stored wholly inside synced folders. Day after day the pace of work began outpacing the speed at which my mobile connection could sync the data. When it finally came to the time to leave the country and I realised there were further files from multiple portable hard drives that needed to be synced it really got out of hand. Eventually I left the country for with approx 6,500 files in synced (many of which were small but essential design and code elements used in development work so we’re not even talking movie style files here).
Once we had arrived at our destination the next thing to start causing havoc was Evernote; a note taking tool that is the digital equivalent of a note book, a central repository for mainly text based content that is synced across multiple devices. Unfortunately with most free WiFi networks at our destination requiring you to login with either a linked email/phone once concurrent connection was the max and time was often limited to 10-30 mins of free access. Suddenly all the notes if amended on a tablet on the plane were out of sync with other devices and any that I’d created fresh didn’t even exist on the other devices.
For the first month of travel we travelled around in a campervan and internet access was even less consistent understandably, however the use of most devices, excluding our cameras, was too. Finally when we found our way back to the city not only was the already a backlog of previous files waiting to any with Dropbox but we had a number of photos to add to the backlog.
Eager to jump into work and begin discovering the local community a few new local online accounts and corresponding passwords had to be created. Of course these were all automatically added to 1Password; password management software which generates unique and secure passwords that are encrypted and synced over all your devices… You guessed it, now every new password was silod on the device where it was created and either didn’t sync because all devices weren’t online at best, or the tiny encrypted file was pushed to the back of a 7k long list of files to sync with no way to prioritise at worst.
Cloud syncing of personal data hasn’t been the only issue either! When visiting an Internet cafe that runs on limited data tariffs, automatically updating apps were straight out of the window after eating an entire sessions worth of data in seconds on separate occasions with both my phone and tablet. Even when only focusing on required updates you can chew through a full session of premium data for apps that seem to have required updates every other day.
It’s only been about two months without regular fast broadband but the effects are already considerably hitting my productivity and perceptions of cloud reliant or enabled software. I haven’t even touched on the one concurrent device rule on many free and premium WiFi networks that effectively lock you out of certain two factor authentication methods.
If we are going to continue to move into a world of device agnostic software based in the cloud, there are some serious hurdles that will need to be overcome for both software and data management. Whilst I have the “luxury” of experiencing this whilst on extended travel, what happens when these issues come up in extended regional outages or mission critical deployments? At the base consumer level this could be frustrating, but at the business and organisational level these problems could be crippling.
After two weeks in the city all most of my software and has finally caught up. I don’t have all the answers or even all of the right questions yet, but it is definitely something that business leaders and people involved with the cloud and software development need to be considering. End users won’t always have the ideal test lab conditions when using a product, if you want them to rely on your software the you need to plan for the issues that will inevitably arise at some point during the life-cycle.