On the other hand, like all cloud-based services, CloneCloud could create a whole new class of security vulnerabilities–the sort that arise when all of a user’s private data is stored on publicly accessible servers. “Even after you address the technical issues, how can you get users to trust the cloud?” asks Su.
Maniatis, Chun’s collaborator on CloneCloud, notes that the team is working on a number of different methods to secure CloneCloud. One approach, known as “private data disclosure detection” or “taint checking,” examines all of the variables in a program that could be affected by inputs from outside sources, in order to detect whether these inputs contain data inserted for malicious purposes. Taint checking is extremely processor intensive, which means that CloneCloud could be a unique enabler for it on mobile devices. “We’re using execution in the cloud to run e-mail applications in an environment where you can do this emulation without waiting for the heat death of the universe for your smart phone to finish,” says Maniatis.
CloneCloud could be bedeviled by another issue that prevented earlier research into offloading computation from mobile devices from being commercialized: network latency and bandwidth limitations. “When they did research on this in the late ’90s,” says Chun, “their wireless connection was a modem, 28.8 kbps. You can imagine that sending data on this connection could take quite a long time.” Smart phones now use much faster wireless technologies: Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, and, eventually, 4G and WiMax. But the speed of the phone’s connection and the power consumption required to transmit data may still limit the kinds of tasks for which CloneCloud can be used.
Chun says that network latency can be masked: the phone could guess what the outcome of a particular process might be and proceed until told otherwise, for example. But it’s clear that some applications, like games, would require connections faster than those currently available and might rapidly drain a phone’s battery.
Ultimately, Chun envisions that the research behind CloneCloud will help intelligently shuffle tasks to the fastest, or most power-efficient, processor in a data center. This application is especially relevant at Intel, which makes everything from the energy-sipping Atom processors used in netbooks to powerful (and power-hungry) Nehalem processors used in Web servers. “There will be a family of heterogeneous devices, and you would like to move the computing job to the one that makes most sense; from that standpoint, it is a great idea,” says Knies.
The same approach could someday allow a computing environment to be unshackled from any one particular device. “You could come home and sit down at a mobile Internet device and have it transfer content and calculations to your desktop PC,” says Knies. “You could imagine what that would enable in terms of sharing information between devices in the home and the mobile device you have on you all the time.”