Tired of trying to keep all his files backed up and syn­chro­nized between his per­sonal, work and travel com­puters, Martin Schedl­bauer, an assis­tant clin­ical pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, switched to “cloud com­puting” — using web-​​based pro­grams, appli­ca­tions and file storage. One year later, he offers his assessment.

What impact has moving to the cloud had on your work?

It’s just gotten a lot easier. I thought the web had matured enough where online appli­ca­tions are as safe as, if not better than, a desktop. I ulti­mately stum­bled onto (the provider) Zoho, which allows me to do almost every­thing online — email, note taking, video calls, sched­uling. I don’t have to install appli­ca­tions locally. When I go home, I don’t have to think, “Did I bring that file on a USB stick?” I use a file syn­chro­niza­tion pro­gram that auto­mat­i­cally updates local files. If I go to someone’s house, I can check my email or cal­endar. If I have a thought, I can enter it in my cell phone. As long as I have a browser, I can get to it.

Are there any drawbacks?

All of this works when Internet is readily avail­able. It is the biggest draw­back and the biggest fear that your doc­u­ments are now with some­body else. So it was impor­tant to me that any pro­gram I used allowed a local backup, for sen­si­tive doc­u­ments. It’s a risk-​​reward kind of thing. The ben­efit is I can travel lightly. But there is a risk: What if this all goes away? There’s also the danger of someone breaking in and stealing your files, so I rotate pass­words fre­quently. I think any­time you log onto the Internet, you are vul­ner­able. But from the other per­spec­tive, if I travel with a laptop, someone could steal it.

Where does “cloud com­puting” cur­rently stand in a society trending more dig­ital?

It’s catching on slowly. Every­thing relies on the avail­ability and reli­a­bility of a net­work con­nec­tion. People are get­ting used to having 24/​7 access to the web. Once people accept that this has the same level of reli­a­bility as other util­i­ties, such as elec­tricity, they are more likely to adopt those cloud ser­vices. But it might not make sense for everyone. Com­pa­nies might be hes­i­tant to store sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion online. For stu­dents, it can work really well. In the future, I see stu­dents really looking at the laptop as an infor­ma­tion access device rather than as a com­puter with a hard drive.

View selected pub­li­ca­tions ofMartin Schedl­bauerin IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.