This week I have been at Schloss Dagstuhl as a co-organizer of a workshop on security for cloud computing. Dagstuhl is a computer science research centre in Germany, and every week they invite a bunch of computer scientists to the old Schloss to discuss a particular research topic.
We discussed various topics. From securing data on the cloud, to computing on this data, to verifying the computation and more interestingly we discussed the economics of whether it actually made any sense. In this last topic there were two interesting talks by Ari Juels and Radu Sion. Both essentially contended that economically it may make no sense to perform computation on encrypted data in the cloud. Indeed Radu went even further and suggested that the so-called economic benefits of general cloud computing may be illusory, especially if the amount of data transfer to and from the cloud outweighs the benefit of the outsourced computation. This was done by measuring the cost of various operations in terms of pico-cents.
A related question, debately quite hotly, was whether any of the ANY cryptographic method for computing on encrypted data could have widespread deployment/usage. As usual the "Danish Sugar Beet" auction was mentioned as the application for Multi-Party Computation technology; but this is a niche application and none of us could come up with a commercially compelling large scale application of such techniques. In all cases there seemed to be impediments to deployment, often of a non-technical nature; such as in whose interest would it be to commercially make such systems available?
Dagstuhl is a great place to visit. If you ever get an invite you need to go. Organization is a bit chaotic; but that is the charm. We made the programme up as we went along, and so could respond to the interesting topics that were arising. However, it is probably best to go not in the bleak mid-winter.