Once upon a time there was this guy who was so enamored with "cloud" computing that he stuck all of his digital eggs in one basket and in the blink of an eye lost it all. The end.
Alright, I'm sure there are enough of you reading this wondering what in the world I'm going on about this week so I suppose I ought to take a few words to explain. You see, I recently read an article online (an "open letter" to Google actually) written by a very distraught fellow who wanted Google to know just how badly they messed up when they locked him out of all of his data.
The poor guy goes on to explain that he spent months switching all of his email over to Gmail, all of his photos over to Google's photo service (Picasa), all of his docs to Google Docs etc.
After painstakingly moving all of his data to Google's servers (wherever they are) he woke up one day to find out his account had been closed due to a "terms of service violation" which he swears up and down he didn't commit.
The bottom line is he spent a considerable amount of time moving his entire digital inventory up to Google's "cloud," didn't make any provisions to back any of it up and then (just as Murphy's law demands) found himself completely locked out.
Now, this column isn't about whether Google had a right to lock him out of his account or not, nor is it some type of cry out to the powers that be to change the way our data is safeguarded when we hand it over to "the cloud." It's more of a cautionary tale to remind us what which we already know - back up everything! Even when entrusting your data to the cloud, back it to a local drive as well! To not do so is just asking for it.
OK, let's look at this a little closer, shall we? First the decision to use a "cloud" service may be a decision that many are not even aware that they are making. Let me try to clarify a couple things. Take email, for example. If you are accessing your email through your web browser by going to www.gmail.com, www.yahoo.com, www.aol.com or any of the other email services that offer "web-based" mail service, then guess what? Your email is being stored and managed "in the cloud" and if you should find yourself in violation of the "terms of service" you too could find yourself locked out. (Just how well did you read those "terms" when you signed up? You know, the terms you have to click the "Accept" button for in order to set up your account?)
Most email services allow the downloading of email to a local email client which is present on each and every machine out there - Windows, Mac or Linux. You can set up your computer's email program (Windows Live Mail, Outlook, Outlook Express for Windows, "Mail" on Macs) by configuring the "POP" or "IMAP" settings. Look it up in your email service's help settings, and if your email service doesn't provide for it, then you may want to consider an alternative.
Next, let's look at the folly of uploading all of your digital pictures to a service like Google's Picasa Web Albums and then deleting the local copies after you upload all of your pictures. Why on earth would anyone do that? "Well Sean, we don't want all these "duplicates," now do we?" Well, actually, you do.
Sure, uploading all of your photos to a web-based service is great, but don't get rid of the originals! Did you know that you can get eight-gigabyte thumb drive from just about any drugstore, nowadays, for about $10?
Do you know how many "duplicate" photos you can store on eight gigs? Then if anything happens to your "web albums," you luckily will have all of those pesky duplicates to fall back on.
The list goes on... Google Docs - Sure save all of your documents to "cloud" storage but how about synchronizing them with a local folder on your own machine, you know, just in case Google goes belly up it will be nice to have a backup.
As the concept of "cloud computing" becomes all encompassing it's important to remember that it's your data. Don't just assume that "they" will protect it for you.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).