Outsourcing Parallels: Technology and Food

At my day job in a university IT department, I’ve spent considerable time thinking about “the cloud”.  In 2010, I helped our school move all faculty, staff, and students from our Exchange mail server to Google Apps for Education.  Early in the process, it wasn’t unusual to hear expressions of uncertainty about data in the cloud.   Will it be secure? Private?  Google’s service was certainly more secure than our self-hosted email server, but I found that many people had an innate distrust of something that wasn’t, so to speak, in our own closet.

Clouds in My Coffee
cloud coffee: coffee photo mine, cloud photo by aussiegall on Flickr

This distrust of outsourcing services made me think of the other things in our lives we outsource, and not surprisingly, my mind turned to food.  I wondered, why do we distrust the secure hosting of our email when so many of us are perfectly willing to eat a burger made by a pimply 15-year-old in a less than pristine fast food chain? While an email breach would be inconvenient, a problem with our food could literally kill us.

Of course, the reasons we outsource computing and food are similar:

  • The provider can do it better, faster, or cheaper than we can
  • Providers have access to ingredients or services at a quantity, quality, or price which we cannot access ourselves
  • We are looking for something new, be it features or flavors

You could call the move to cloud computing, and the possibilities it offers, revolutionary.  The modern restaurant of the western world has its roots in another revolution  – the French Revolution.   As a result of the French Revolution, middle class citizens were able to access affordable prepared food created by talented chefs who once served the upper class.  This change gave them access to ingredients and preparations that had once been off-limits.  The beginnings of the restaurant also shifted the location of dining from private residences to public spaces.

What begins as a convenience can change the way we live.  Today, we enjoy restaurants for a chance to spend time among others, to see and be seen.  In the same way, shared computing resources are opening new possibilities for collaboration and changing the way we interact with the rest of the world.

As the trend shifts towards cloud computing, our expectations and comfort zone adjust as well – younger generations are often too trusting when it comes to online privacy and security.  On the other hand, in the food world, we’re beginning to question some of the outsourcing we’ve done in the past; growing our own ingredients and preparing meals from scratch is back in vogue.  Which makes me wonder: in fifteen years, will it be retro-chic to host my own email server?

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