We spent a lot of years talking about net neutrality—the idea that the companies that provide access to the internet shouldn’t unfairly block, slow down, or otherwise interfere with traffic even if that traffic competes with their services. But there’s an even bigger issue brewing, and it’s time to start talking about it: cloud neutrality.
“While its name sounds soft and fluffy,” Microsoft president and general counsel Brad Smith and coauthor Carol Ann Browne write in their recent book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, “in truth the cloud is a fortress.” Their introduction describes the modern marvel of the data center: a 2 million-square-foot, climate-controlled facility made up of colossal electrical generators, diesel fuel tanks, battery arrays, and bulletproof doors. At its center is what they call a “temple to the information age and cornerstone of our digital lives”: thousands of machines connected to the fastest possible internet connections, providing offsite storage and computing power to businesses that otherwise couldn’t possibly afford the hardware for all that storage and computing power.
The book means to portray this might and power as both a source of wonder and an enabling feature of the modern economy. To me, it reads like a threat. The cloud economy exists at the pleasure, and continued profit, of a handful of companies.
The threat is not an immediate one as these companies are gobbling up as many services as they can right now, but we could be in the phase similar to when Facebook was in its initial growth spurts. Look at the problem we face with Facebook now, and look how excellent competing networks struggle to lure anyone away from Facebook today. Up to now corporates have hosted servers themselves and physically controlled their own data and destinies. But of the flags is with the lure of cloud services many corporates are felling they no longer need their internal IT people (this offsets the cost of going to cloud) but then who really understands IT well enough to make good decisions. "Just buy it from us as a service, and you won't need internal IT" goes one of the mantras. When you loom later there is often no easy path to back out again. It is just something we need to keep aware of and hopefully corporates have good Devil's Advocates within their own ranks to retain some sanity.
See We Need to Talk About ‘Cloud Neutrality’
A multibillion-dollar, privately-owned infrastructure is now essential to the modern internet economy. That should freak you out.