March 2013 Issue

Tech Tips - Dark Clouds
 by Gregg Marshall

Cloud computing is big news.  Almost everyone is using some kind of cloud service.  It could be Gmail, often followed by Google Apps, which include word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. 

Using a cloud service makes a lot of sense.  Email servers, as an example, is not something that any small to medium sized business should be maintaining in house.  The cost of the server, the internet connectivity, maintaining the server, doing backups, making sure the security is configured correctly, all add up to a lot of expense compared to using a service like Office365 or Google Apps.  Don’t think just because you are a small business you are not a target for hackers.  A good friend’s internal Microsoft Exchange server was hacked, the hackers offered to leave them alone for several thousand dollars.  It took this company two months and quite a bit of consulting time to get the problem resolved.

Cloud storage is also a great way to back up your important data files.  Cloud backup has the advantage of being off site, so should someone disaster destroy your computer, your data is still safe.

There is a dark side to cloud storage/cloud computing.  We tend to assume our data is safe, and don’t employ the same backup protection against data loss.

For example, I have been using Evernote since it was released in 2004.  Whenever I read something I think I might want to reference later, I’ll clip it into Evernote.  I call it my “write only memory.”  Or a data black hole for a digital packrat.  Information goes in, it rarely comes back out.  But, from time to time, I do decide to go back and look something up.

Over the past 8 years, I have accumulated about 12,000 notes in my main notebook.  It is the default place I put my clippings into.  Imagine my surprise when I logged into the web interface from a computer I hadn’t installed Evernote onto and did my search.  Nothing came back.  I thought that was odd, I had expected a lot of hits on a relatively generic term.  Then I notice that Evernote only recognized my last 100 notes!

Had I depended only on the cloud storage provided by Evernote, I would have been in a panic.  I booted up a laptop that had Evernote on it.  There were 12,000+ notes.  Syncing to Evernote added in the new notes, but didn’t do anything to help the web version.  It still showed 100 notes.

After about a week, and a couple of reindexes by support, which I had direct access to as a premium subscriber, all 12,000+ notes reappeared on the cloud/web version.  I was fortunate.  I had a local backup, just in case, and support was able to recover my relatively valuable collection of random notes.

A lot of people use Gmail as their primary email account.  Many companies use Google Apps’ version of Gmail as their corporate email service.  And more and more people are using the document and spreadsheet functions of the bundled Google Apps (both for Gmail and corporate accounts) for their word processing and spreadsheet, either as a replacement for, or supplement to, Microsoft Office.  Address books, past emails with important information, documents, all stored in a cloud that on occasion has become inaccessible for a period of time.  What if something happened and you lost access to your Gmail account for an extended period (I actually lost access the week I was in China)?

About that same time, I got an email from Backupify (https://www.backupify.com).  I get them every week and frankly ignore them.  But the almost loss of my Evernote data made that email significant.  It was a status update that they had backed up my various Google Apps and Gmail accounts.  I went on-line and added in my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.  While you can’t restore the information for Facebook or LinkedIn, at least you’d have anything you might lose if they change their data retention policy (which Facebook has done more than once) or suffer a data loss.  I also exported the latest backups to my local computer, just in case.

The bottom line is you should be backing up your on-line/cloud services data to your local computer just like you back up your local computer data to a cloud service.  The working assumption shouldn’t be if you are going to suffer some kind of data loss, but when.  What would happen if you lost everything that is stored on-line (don’t’ forget the upcoming zombie apocalypse).


Gregg Marshall, CPMR, CSP, CMC is a speaker, author and consultant. He can be reached by e-mail at gmarshall@vendor-tech.com, or visit his website at http://www.vendor-tech.com.


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