What is the free desktop ecosystem's answer to both the growing potential and the growing threat from the cloudmania? Unfortunately, there is not much to it yet. My continuous motivation to change this can best be described by this excerpt from an abstract of a DS'11 submission:

The use of online services, social networks and cloud computing offerings has become increasingly ubiquitous in recent years, to the point where a lot of users entrust most of their private data to such services. Still, the free desktop architectures have not yet addressed the challenges arising from this trend. In particular, users are given little systematic control over the selection of service providers and use of services. We propose, from an applied research perspective, a non-conclusive but still inspiring set of desktop extension concepts and implemented extensions which allow for more user-centric service and cloud usage.

When these lines were written, we did already have the platform-level answers, but not yet the right tools to build a concrete architecture for everyday use. The situation has recently improved with results pointing into the right direction. This post describes such a tool for optimal cloud storage in particular (optimal compute clouds are still ahead of us).

NubiSave Enter NubiSave, our award-winning optimal cloud storage controller. It evaluates formal cloud resource descriptions with some SQL/XML schema behind them plus some ontology magic such as constraints and axioms, together with user-defined optimality criteria (i.e. security vs. cost vs. speed). Then, it uses these to create the optimal set of resources and spreads data entering through a FUSE-J folder among the resources, scheduling again according to optimality criteria. Even if encryption is omitted or brute-forced, no single cloud provider gets access to the file contents. Furthermore, transmission and retention quality is increased compared to legacy single-provider approaches. This puts the user into command and the provider into the backseat. Thanks to redundancy, insubordinate providers can be dismissed by the click of a button :-)

NubiSave experimental PyQt GUI Going from proof-of-concept prototypes to usable applications requires some programming and maintenance effort. This is typically not directly on our agenda, but in selected cases we choose this route for increasing the impact through brave adopters. The recently started PyQt GUI shown here gives a good impression on how desktop users will be able to mix and match suitable resource service providers. This tool will soon be combined with the allocation GUI which interestingly enough is also written in PyQt for real-time control of what is going on between the desktop and the cloud.

Of course, there are still plenty of open issues, especially concerning automation for the masses - how many GB of free storage can we get today? Without effort to set it up? But the potential of this solution over deprecated single vendor relationships is pretty clear. If people want RAIDs for local storage, why don't they go for RAICs and RAOCs (Redundant Arrays of Optimal Cloud storage) already? In fact, a fairly large company has shown significant interest in this work, and clearly we hope on more companies securing their souvereignty in the cloud through technologies such as ours. And we hope on desktops offering dead simple tools to administer all of this, and complementary efforts such as ownCloud to add fancy web-based sharing capabilities.

Making optimal use of externally provided resources in the cloud is a good first step (and a necessity to preserve leeway in the cloud age), but being able to collaboratively participate in community/volunteer cloud resource provisioning is the logical path going beyond just the consumption. We are working on a community-driven cloud resource spotmarket for interconnected personal clouds and on a sharing tool to realise this vision. The market could offer GHNS feeds for integration into the Internet of Services desktop. I'm glad to announce that in addition to German Ministry of Economics and EU funding, for the entire year of 2012 we were able to acquire funds from the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). This means that next year I will migrate between hemispheres a couple times to work with a team of talented people on scalable cloud resource delivery to YOUR desktop. Hopefully, more people from the community are interested to join our efforts, especially for desktop and distribution integration!