Thought Leadership

Data in the cloud

By Colin Walls

Many years ago, I got a prolapsed disc – is means that one of the discs of cartilage between the bones of my spine popped out and back in again. This was rather scary, as I had a sharp pain and immediately lost the use of my legs. After a couple of hours, I could walk again and, within a few days, I was fine. It was only many years later that the cause was identified: the length of my legs differ by about 2cm. I always knew this, but nobody told me that it was abnormal and/or a problem, let alone treatable. The result of this incident is that I have chronic back problems. I am not in pain all the time, but I have to be careful – one careless lift and I am in pain for days. So, I tend to delegate any serious lifting and lighten my load whenever I can.

Help with this problem has come from a somewhat unexpected source …

I travel a lot with my work and this is a context in which I have to be careful with my back. Being tall, economy seats on aircraft are particularly uncomfortable, especially on long flights. Recent changes in airline policy, that seem to make buying upgrades with miles impossible, is as annoying as it is incomprehensible. The handling of baggage is another danger zone. Checked bags are not too much of a problem, as modern ones have good wheels and, on a long trip, I check as much stuff as I can – only carrying anything delicate or needed during the flight. I am amazed by the enormous, heavy bags that some people take as hand baggage. Doesn’t the term “carry on” suggest that they should be able to carry it? But I digress …

I normally need to take a computer with me when I am traveling and it is fortunate that laptops have got a lot lighter in recent years. However, a high end machine can still weigh more than 3Kg, which is an annoying load. I long since figured out that lugging what amounts to a supercomputer on my shoulder was unnecessary. I have a monster (and quite cheap) desktop computer in my office and a modest [and light] netbook that I use for traveling. This works well, as, when I am on the road, all I need to do is email, Web, writing a bit and presenting. And the netbook serves me well. Of late, I have moved to an even better solution: my iPad can do almost everything I need and weighs even less.

I recently realised that carrying any equipment around is fundamentally illogical. I do not carry my bed, for example, because every hotel in the world can provide something that is functionally equivalent. Is this not also true of computers? What makes my computer unique? The answer is the data [and perhaps the software] on it. This has been recognised by some conference organisers, who invite presenters to send their files ahead or bring them on a USB stick. It is only small step to make life even easier: just keep the data in the Cloud.

Nowadays , when I travel, I make sure that all my critical files [mainly presentations] are uploaded to somewhere online. I can access them from any Internet-connected computer. I use Evernote to do this, as it fits my way of working, but there are numerous other services – many of them free – that can do the job. DropBox, Google Docs and Apple’s recently-announced iCloud are all options.

I never expected the Internet to help my bad back. Now I can take “traveling light” to a new level.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at